How Pokemon is a Great Metaphor for Chronic Pain


I’ve done a lot of walking today. It was for a good cause, and I had a nice day, but nonetheless I did a lot of walking.

For most people, that’d just mean having a lazy evening sat chilling, but for me and my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it means for the next couple of days I’ll be in quite a bit of pain. Random twinges in my calf muscles and both kneecaps feeling like they’re trying to secede from the rest of my body are just some of the fun things I’ve got in store.

This experience got me thinking about there not being very many games that really emulate the feeling I have right now. Plenty of games have stamina meters (including the frankly excellent Us which I wrote about for Indie Haven), but few manage to link the very act of moving to a real punishment in the same was as living with something like EDS.

And then it hit me: Pokemon is one of the best games about disability, and it isn’t even about disability.

Introduced in the first generation of Pokemon games, the Safari Zone is an area that was always incredibly exciting to me as a small child. There wasn’t the annoying battle system, I just got to stroll through a pretty zone and catch rad Pokemon like Kangaskhan and Scyther. But there was a caveat to the entire Safari Zone: every step I took, a timer would count down. Once it hit zero that was it. Fun’s over, no more Scythers for me.

The Safari Zone is a pretty decent parallel to explain what my day has been like. I enjoyed it, much like I did on my little Gameboy Safari trip, but it’s something I was also actively punished for doing. I had to sum up whether going a little bit further was worth it, or whether it’d just push me to the point I could do no more.

Having that threat of punishment, of not being able to do anything else if you take too many steps, also helps show the mind-set of people like me in day-to-day life. In the first generation of games, you are rewarded with a HM called “Surf” if you reach the centre of the zone. This lets you sail across the water and continue progressing through the game. Getting to the centre of the Safari Zone absolutely requires you to cut out any superfluous steps, as even with the most efficient route you get dangerously close to the limit.

Getting surf is about struggling against your own limited mobility, and it requires you to see the obstacles ahead of you in a very different way. Cutting corners, avoiding long grass, making sure you don’t get turned around and lost. That streamlining of movement mirrors things I have to tackle in everyday life. Can I really get to that shop, or are my legs already too bad? Will going out for fun now make it more difficult for me to do the things I absolutely need to do later on? I’m sure anybody familiar with chronic fatigue or pain would have asked themselves very similar questions.

It’s just interesting that I have been playing Pokemon for as long as I can remember, and yet it’s taken me now being sat in pain after shopping to realise just why my favourite bit of them really is my favourite.

Good job, Safari Zone. You may not have meant to be a good analogy for chronic pain, but god damn it you are.


2 thoughts on “How Pokemon is a Great Metaphor for Chronic Pain

  1. Charles

    This feel like a gaming version of Spoons analogy, which I think some people who don’t get that may understand this better. Great writing as always Joe!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s