Pokemon Scarlet & Violent Don't Meet Your Expecations (and that's okay)
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet hit the universe two weeks ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s all I want to play all of the time. And yet - it seems impossible to go anywhere without hearing complaints about the game. It’s the frame rate, the bugs, the raid issues, the botched this, or the broken that. But in essence, Game Freak kind of gave Pokemon fans precisely what we’ve been asking for for generations now… but it came with some costs that made the game overall suffer.
Given that this is a nerdy sermon, it shouldn’t shock you to hear that this is a pretty human conundrum to find ourselves in. We face this pressing reality as people, and we’ve done it since the beginning. I’d wager this won’t be the last time a video game fails to live up to expectations.
In this nerdy deep dive, we’ll highlight one particularly overused piece of scripture to reveal some of the secrets of expectations and look into ways to help ourselves out of the rut of disappointment in our favorite things.
So what do the captive Israelites have to do with Pocket Mans? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and Maushold is my favorite new Pokemon, and anything else is slander. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSVue)
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Let’s start with the controversy behind Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you that Pokemon exists - since you clicked on this video, at the very least. There was also a giant inflatable Pikachu in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, like, last week.
With Scarlet and Violet, Pokemon entered the 9th generation of its mainline series. While there have certainly been more than nine Pokemon games, this was the ninth official canon of the series.
This game came hot on the heels of the somewhat controversial Pokemon Legends Arceus that dropped at the start of the year - which is one of my top games of the year.
You can tell that Game Freak took many of the ideas for Arceus that worked well, and you can also tell that they took a ton of ideas that worked well from the well-received entry prior in Pokemon’s 8th generation Sword and Shield.
However, let’s run that back just a second. Game Freak, the developer of the mainline games, made Arceus, which was innovative and ambitious… less than a year ago. That’s not a lot of time to make a game, regardless of the billions of dollars in the franchise.
Throw into the mix that Scarlet and Violet were determined to take the zoned open-world concept of Sword and Arceus and turn it into a fully-fledged and genuine open-world experience. While not appropriately scaled for the game type, the adventure was one you could experience on your terms, like the heaviest hitter of the year, Elden Ring.
And it did that. Scarlet and Violet's actual gameplay is objectively the most open-world experience we’ve ever gotten. Fans have been asking for this since forever, and Game Freak has made gentle steps forward, but this one did the thing. No random encounters. No forced trainer battles.
The world feels realized. The gym leaders are inspired. The new Pokemon designs are almost all solid. The new elements flow seamlessly into one another. Terastalizing is more fun than I could have ever predicted. Most UI issues were fixed and resolved. Sandwiches and picnics make the meta more fun than ever. Outbreaks and raid dens make shiny hunting and competitive building more strategic than any generation. The legendaries are compelling. The story is a story, and a darn good one at that.
Oh, but the thing doesn’t run.
People in the background look like stop-motion graphics. Raid battles feature health bars that repopulate even when you one-hit KO. You can see inside the character model when climbing a ladder. I’ve even had the game crash on me several times, and I’m one of those lucky people who never has that happen - I only had Cyberpunk crash once.
Now, crashing and health population in raids aside, nearly all of the bugs and glitches are funnier than anything and don’t take away from how the game plays. It’s just kind of… ugly.
But remember all the good things I said earlier?
Doesn’t matter. Scarlet and Violet scored a 73 on Metacritic - the lowest score on any mainline Pokemon game.
I mean, they also gave Mewtwo Strikes Back a 35 - so who cares what they think? But you get my meaning.
I just said it was probably a game that’s the best in so many elements. It’s easily the best story for me, maybe ever. But definitely since the jump to 3D - and I really liked Sun/Moon.
What it really comes down to is perception and expectation.
I have no expectation of what a Pokemon game will look like. People ragged about Arceus, and it was what I dream about Pokemon looking like when I sleep at night. Purely for the ability to crouch down and throw the Pokeball - 10/10 game
But we’re entering a time in gaming where the focus of a game is the ray-tracing and the quality of the thing.
If you watch our streams, I play games like Omori, Undertale, and OneShot - these are games that most people won’t even touch because of the style and aesthetic because they look cheap. But they are the most extraordinary stories I think have ever been told in gaming.
But at the end of the day, those are indie games, and the AAA Elitist types can brush them comfortably.
But Pokemon - Pokemon is the biggest franchise in the world.
Why on earth would their quality control not be through the roofs?
There are plenty of answers to that question, some more reasonable than others, and some more ethical than others.
But the Pokemon Company and Game Freak aren’t watching this video. You are.
So what will we do about this disappointment? What can we do to get off the echo chamber of the internet and instead enjoy an enjoyable game?
Before we break down some tangible ways of doing that, let’s take a quick look at some starkly different scripture.
You’ve undoubtedly heard one of the verses in this passage; whether you grew up in church or are Christian, I know the plans I have for you for hope and a future.
But only some people take the time to consider the context of the verse, which I kindly included.
These words are from a prophet named Jeremiah, spoken when the Israelites receiving this prophecy were in captivity by the Babylonian kingdom.
And they will be, for like a while. The scripture says 70 years. A holy and intentional number, no doubt.
Once those 70 years are up, the Lord will visit and bring the Israelites back to the promised land.
So, you should be happy with that. Then our famous verse: I know the plans ahead. And when is that plan coming to fruition? 70 years.
And it’s then - then - in 70 years - when I will hear your prayers, and you will find me, and you will have your fortunes, and you will gather after the waiting.
Now, to us in the present-day context, this may seem encouraging because, sure enough, the Israelites turned out okay and survived that enslavement.
And then they get told about this Jesus guy who will ride in and conquer.
And he does. By dying. And by being a peace-bringer.
And then they get told that the Holy Spirit will descend upon them and change things.
And it does. By leading to an age of sacrifice and the death of the disciples.
And then Paul tells of the coming of Jesus that’s so soon that you don’t even need to worry about getting married because it will be so soon.
And here we are. 2000 years later. And, uh, I’m married.
And we’ve had a whole lot of weddings in those 2000 years.
What I’m getting at here is that we’ve made a bad habit as human beings of setting up expectations for what the Lord has in store. We are confident that Jeremiah's plans are right around the corner, waiting on us. But there are very few, if any, who have correctly predicted what the plan actually is ahead.
No one expected Jesus to actually die. No one expected Jesus to actually rise again.
But he did.
I might go so far as to say that most Christians probably don’t expect Jesus to return.
But he will. It may be 70 years, 700 years, or 7000 years. We have no idea what to expect, so why even bother trying to expect?
That’s why this current season in the church is my favorite time because it helps me to reframe my expectation into preparation.
We’re in a season right now called Advent - this is a time where we sit in that unknowing and prepare for the eventual return of Jesus by reflecting on his first entrance into humanity in the form of the Christmas story.
We don’t waste our time making guesses as to the return. Instead, we remember, we recall, and we refocus on who Jesus was, is, and is to come.
Despite coining such a famous scripture, it may surprise you that the Prophet Jeremiah wasn’t the most popular guy. Most prophets weren’t because prophecy often came with caveats like this - hey, things are gonna shape up… eventually.
No one wants to be told they will endure suffering for 70 years. Yet that’s what was revealed. And so we have this book of things that we can read and study and learn from that tells us that the burden is light on one page and then tell us that the world will hate us on the next.
The expectations we place on Jesus will never hold up. And they don’t hold up in real life, either. While Pokemon is obviously less important than the second coming of Jesus, it applies to our lives. Have you ever expected something of someone - a significant other who breaks your heart or a parent who breaks your trust? We have expectations in our lives, and they just aren’t helpful and lead to more pain ultimately.
So what does this mean for us today? What can we do to work past expectations?
Like I said earlier, Advent is a wonderful example of how we might live more of our lives. Don’t enter into a space of expectation, but preparation and remembrance.
Silly example, I know, but Pokemon was an absolute 10/10 banger for me because I just love Pokemon. And why do I love it? Because I grew up with it. I have fond memories of these creatures and stories. No matter how bad the new game is - I still have that that I can remember and look back on fondly.
Sometimes those nostalgia glasses help us to see the world in a rose color that lets us know the game that might not look as good as Elden Ring but means as much to us because we approached it with affection instead of prerendered judgment.
A less silly example - for those of you who are married or dating someone - we can beat each other up figuratively when we set expectations on the other and throw around the word divorce or breaking up because of silly unmet expectations. Instead, if we see our relationship as a thing worth nurturing because it’s a memory, a remembrance, an item that we have to prepare for, that’s a different situation altogether.
The same goes for a hurt between family members - we need to stop seeing people as those who fulfill our expectations and instead see them as bundles of memories that we call relationships worth protecting and preparing for the next great moment.
This is where we land on the You Matter phrase from our three things - do you matter if you live this lifestyle or that lifestyle? Do you matter if you believe in God or not? The question is irrelevant because we don’t expect you to matter to our preset expectations. No - you matter because you are made of sacred stuff and because God says you matter. Start there - answer the other questions later.
This is hard work that is dividing us from one another constantly, but if you want to be a part of a community doing our very best to move past the expectations and enter into a place of remembering who we are together. Know that whether you’re a Maushold, a sad puppy (Mabosstiff), or literally just a flamingo (flamigo), you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.