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Breaking The Fourth Wall: Pokéballs

Hello, and welcome to breaking the fourth wall, a new series where I take popular science fiction ideas and explore the different ways they could possibly work. This series will involve heavy speculation and fan theory, and is mostly just a fun exercise. I do not think that pokéballs could exist, although a man can dream.

Pokémon X and Y have been out for almost a month now, so you can count this post as either belated or non-topical, but I’ve been playing Y in my breaks between coursework, dissertation revision and pulling my hair out, and apparently, if there’s anything that gets me thinking, it’s pokémon. Yes, the premise is ridiculous, but it’s also fascinating, and so I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about poké balls.

So, bear with me, because obviously, we can’t turn animals into data.

We are however, getting better and better at storing data. Hard drives are getting bigger all the time, and they’re only going to get bigger. It’s not impossible to store enough data to code for a living creature, but it is such a stretch that it’s frankly ridiculous. But there’s something appealing about the ridiculous sometimes.

So let’s think about what we’d need for this to work.

Obviously, to store a creature at its current state, and to be able to summon it again, living, just how you left it, you would need more than just DNA. You would need the information of its age, size, memories and more, and you would need the power to store this information in a tiny, tiny ball, and transfer this information back without damage. In a way, this is linked to the problem with teleportation. If you’re going to transfer a living being into information, even if you can recreate them in another place (or later on in the same place), the living being must be destroyed. This… kind of breaks the whole neural continuity thing… you would probably die. Perhaps in the future we will be able to overcome this, mass and energy are related after all, but to call it a far fetched hope would be generous.

So let’s call it Farfetch’d.

Still, the design’s pretty sleek. Fancy a look at some blueprints?

Preserving memory depends on our understanding of how memory is stored in the first place, and as it turns out, this is not straight forward. There isn’t one small sphere with all of our memories in, memories are made of a lot of different things stored in different places, long term, short term, olfactory triggers… our understanding of how brains work is not yet up to the task of saving our memories for later, and even if it was, could we confidently ever say that the creature we recreated from the energy inside the pokéball was the original? Memories or no, is this not a new life form? Do we kill our old partners every time we switch them out in battle?

I’ll kill that thought before we can get too deep into it. Pokémon’s largely an optimistic game and I don’t want to get into creepypasta territory.

Now, if we want to get into how the information is supposedly stored in pokémon, there’s an interesting diagram here showing our friends stored as light energy, bouncing across a sphere of glass, essentially, storing the moving information as light until it is opened and the energy is released. This is an interesting concept, and it makes more sense in the context of the games than simply using a huge computer, but it still runs into the same problems.

Simply put, pokémon aren’t real. At least we have kittens.

[image credits: geekosystem, rye-bread.deviantart, kickass-interactive.blogspot]

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Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.

1 Comment

  1. November 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm —

    While I hate to spoil anybody’s picnic, I feel obliged to point out the other slight issue with storing pokemon as light energy, which is that it means that when you return your Pikachu to his ball, it converts him into a burst of high-energy radiation roughly equivalent to thirty times the yield of the Tsar Bomba. As this radiation hits the interior of the pokeball, a reasonable portion of it will be converted to heat, and the resultant fireball will almost certainly vaporise the pokeball, you and everything else within several dozen kilometres. The remaining EM radiation will then be free to heavily irradiate everything within several hundred, which will probably make getting him to a Pokecentre somewhat difficult, for fairly obvious reasons.

    On the plus side, you could probably make a strong case that Pikachu is the source of the effect. Since whoever you were battling would be at ground zero, and given the existence of moves such as Self Destruct, the judges would probably rule it as a win in your favour. So at least there’s that to console yourself with.

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