What Pokémon Legends Arceus Teaches Us About Humanity
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve logged way too many hours already into the world of Pokemon Legends Arceus. I may or may not have spent like thirty hours in the game before beating the second frenzied lord. I’m not even gonna deny it - I’m obsessed.
But there’s something different about this Pokemon game. Game Freak has always been pretty good about hiding bits and pieces of Poke-lore into the background of the games and the bookshelves, but with this jaunt into history - we’re literally experiencing the lore that Pokemon is built upon. And it’s brought with it this seriously heavy religious strife between the Pearl and Diamond clans. So what’s going on there? Can we as Christians learn from the feud going on between these two factions? Or could they learn from us? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and proposing we extend the day to twenty-five hours so I can play Arceus for one hour longer. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 5:17-20 (NRSV)
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So, before I even break down what this series is, let’s get the elephant out of the room. I will be pronouncing the name of the Poke-god Arceus. If you prefer Arceus or Arceus or Arceus - then I give you permission to download this youtube video, use the clip of me saying the name correctly just then, layering it over each time I say it incorrectly, and watching it in the basement while you eat macaroni noodles. It’s Arceus.
If it was Arceus, then what would that make this? (Show picture of the Arc Phone) Go ahead. Say it. Check. Mate.
With that, what exactly are we talking about today? Pokemon Legends Arceus is the newest non-mainline Pokemon game to enter the franchise, entering the fray in January of 2022. And it made folks nervous - but turned out to be a hit.
It’s a game that takes the player and puts them back in time to the founding of the Poke world in the land of Sinnoh before Pokemon have been domesticated and become the norm in whenever the other games are set?
It was a bold new title because it was clearly following the HUGE lead of LOZ BOTW in the expansive semi-open-world aesthetic. Plus - most excitingly to me - you get to throw the Pokeball for reals. It’s so fun. I knew I was going to love this game from the first time they teased it, I lost it when I saw Akari throw that pokeball. SOLD.
I could rave about this game and how much I love it and how graphics nerds can take their critiques elsewhere, but for this video I actually want to focus on the plot of the game, which is a sentence I never thought I would say about a Pokemon game.
Anyway, endgame spoilers for Pokemon Legends Arceus, minor spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless.
In this game, you are a third-party alien entity that fell from the sky, which is something that everyone that you meet will remind you of nearly incessantly. Despite this, you find yourself in the good graces of the Galaxy Team who are exploring and cultivating the earliest village of Jubilife in the Sinnoh Region.
You join the exploration team and use your big bwave self to venture out into the dangerous wildlands and catch a bunch of Pokemon. Like so many Pokemon. I’m going to complete that Dex.
Along the way, you discover that there are other camps out doing recon in the world, with the two biggest being the Diamond clan, led by Adaman, and the Pearl clan, led by Irida.
These two do not get along - but they also do in like a will-they-won’t-they kind of way? I don’t know, I play too many dating sims.
Anyway, Adaman and Irida are the de facto heads of their individual clans and each of them believe that they are the ultimate ones in the right over who the almighty Sinnoh is.
Adaman believes that the almighty Sinnoh is the controller of time, Irida believes that the almighty Sinnoh is the controller of space. Not only do they vehemently believe that they are correct, they also unabashedly hate the the other for thinking that the opposite could possibly be true. Like, to the point that Adaman just hates space and Irida hates time.
And - I’d be lying if this didn’t strike a little too close to the heart of the Christian tradition. It feels downright religious how these two worship their almighty Sinnoh and just can’t see any way around it.
By the end of the game, after everything has really hit the fan, you, along with Adaman and Irida, learn that in fact there is not one almighty Sinnoh, but two. And also they aren’t named Sinnoh, but one is named Dialga and the other Palkia and they each control time and space respectively.
Wait until someone tells them about Arceus - imagine!
Once they acknowledge that in fact neither of them were wholly correct or incorrect, they change their tune pretty seriously and begin to work together towards righting the ship of space and time caused by these frenzies.
Whenever the two clan leaders learn the truth, this game speedlines it up to immediate recovery, apology, and new adaptation, which is not realistic to the church, but it is a game after all.
Maybe it’s just because I’m so close to the matter, but I really couldn’t help but think of the parallel to the church throughout this entire encounter. I hope you’ll play this game and I hope if you’re at all interested in the things we talk about here at Checkpoint and in this video, that you’ll actually read the dialogue and ponder it a bit, because I gotta chalk it up to the writers, they actually did a really good job exploring human error and the harm of religiosity.
I’m not gonna say they used the Bible as their source - but they very well could have. Let’s look at our scripture and see how the message is very much the same for us today.
Our passage comes from one of the most famous chunks of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount. This is a collective of text and teaching from Jesus that we use often for our practices on how we should live our lives as Christians. This is right from the beginning of the text, and the gospel writer Matthew has done that for a reason.
One of the recurring phrases of Jesus throughout all of the gospels really, is this phrase ‘you have heard it said ____, but I say to you ___.’ This is an equation that Jesus used to help provide context and illustration for the text of the Old Testament laws and teachings into the real-time context that Jesus was within.
This chunk in particular is Matthew, through the words of Jesus, giving us the reader the heads up that it isn’t Jesus’ intention to throw out or replace the old law, but rather to bring it into its truest newness through this equative phrase
The words the gospel writer uses is that Jesus didn’t come to abolish, but to fulfill. And that heaven will not come until the law is fulfilled, completed, seen through. What a weird phrase, right?
Like, when I follow traffic laws, I don’t think of them as being done. I don’t fulfill them, you know? I do them and then they’re out of my mind until I return to my car.
Jesus is explaining that these laws aren’t like those other laws, but that living them is finding them so second-nature that they become fulfilled. Why? Why was this necessary? What is Jesus getting at?
This was a scathing review of the church at the time. See, the scribes and pharisees had become so hyperfocused on the letter of the law and what it exactly said that they were actually perverting the law with word games, semantics, and power. They had gotten to a place where they were using the law itself to directly do things that were sinful.
To Jesus, this is the literal lowest you can go at even trying to accomplish the law. I don’t believe Jesus is actually wanting to set up some kind of heaven-based hierarchy here, instead Jesus is getting at that the scandalous ‘rule-following’ of the Pharisees is the minimal effort and it’s never gonna be enough to fulfill Jesus prayers that it may be on earth as it is in heaven.
Instead, it has to be better. It has to be more. And so Jesus sets out on his short life of ministry correcting the errors of the law not by throwing it out, but instead by bringing out the truth like the bloom of espresso from within the dark grounds.
In the church, we’ve really not grown that much since the days of the pharisees. We still make this fatal of reading too deeply into our laws, cultural norms, and standards that we’ve set before ourselves - and it’s simply not the whole truth.
You can watch our whole video diatribe against it here, but in the NYT article recently Tish Harrison Warren wrote an op-ed about why churches need to end online worship. In it, she makes several appeals to the importance of the tradition set by the church of the past. And she’s not wrong there. But she’s also not right. She’s so focused on the rules, laws, and norms, that she’s only allowing the church to work at it’s literal minimal effort.
Jesus wants so much more than minimal. And we are capable of so much more than minimal. Just like Adaman and Irida, we get so caught up in our own ancestry and beliefs, that we refuse to even see the forest for the trees. Maybe we’re both right? Maybe we’re both wrong about the other?
It’s so very tempting to thinking about things in a binary - either Jesus is agreeing with the law or throwing the law out. But instead Jesus says that he’s doing a new thing. A third thing. A different thing. A thing beyond our own assumptions. And it’s better. It’s more fruitful than we could dream. It blows our minds and our expectations and allows for a better, deeper experience.
So what does this mean for us today?
I think most of us find ourselves in those shoes of Adaman and Irida, rule-followers or anarchists, lovers or haters, online church or traditional only, Arceus or Arceus… the truth is that there is so much more spice to life and Jesus brings up that nuance over and over and over again.
Our role as Christians is not to fade into the binary -isms of the world, but the change the world through our radical multiplicity of nuance and flavor. Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope you’ll at least consider what it means to let go a bit of the certainty that you hold onto that brings you to a place of harm to other humans and instead embrace a beautiful nuance that allows harmony that rivals the likes of heaven - here on earth.
That’s what we’re doing at Checkpoint Church - as best as we can. We have Trekkies and Star Wars fans talking space, we have League players and Pokedex completers together enjoying one another’s company. We’d love to have you join us in that space and bring all your nuance with you.
Whether you’re in the Diamond clan, the Pearl clan, or the Gingko Guild, know you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.