I’ve loved the Pokémon games for almost my entire life, but they make me feel guilty.
It’s not the core premise: I can live with the fact that the franchise is built around collecting, subjugating, and battling innocent creatures. No, there’s a deeper, more personal connection that haunts me every time I start a new adventure. And it all has to do with eggs.
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Gotta Hatch ‘Em All
Pokémon breeding, introduced in 1999’s Gold and Silver versions, serves as a way to influence some of the randomly generated elements of each character’s statistics. By leaving two compatible species in the care of the charming elderly couple that run each region’s day care, players can control the moves, nature, and strengths of their spawn.
Certain traits can only be passed down through breeding. Hidden abilities and exclusive attacks were only made available through hatching the eggs of appropriate parent Pokémon. A complex amount of math is involved in the breeding process, though a lot is still left to chance.
In a way, the series has always been as much about collecting as it is about bringing people together — and the addition of online trading made ‘catching ‘em all’ possible in more ways than ever before.
Because this sense of universal connectivity is so central to what makes Pokémon special, an easter egg was programmed into the games to celebrate worldwide trading. In a blog post on December 14, 2007, after the international release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, GameFreak Director Junichi Masuda wrote about how the Global Trade Station expressed the game’s theme in a crystal clear manner:
“I [am] confident that the player will [be sure] to trade their Pokémon at least once with this GTS system. However, I wondered how we could make the trade number of times…not only domestic, but overseas trading, especially the people you have never met.”
Masuda went on to detail a list of content that was added to celebrate the GTS, including translated Pokédex entries and tracking a monster’s origin, but one line stuck out. Slipped nonchalantly into his bullet-pointed patch notes, it reads “rare colored Pokémon’s Egg can be found little easier.” Here, he alludes to shiny Pokémon, one of the most sought-after collectibles in the game.
Since Gold and Silver, each Pokémon has had an alternate color scheme programmed into the game that can randomly appear any time the monster is encountered. Finding shiny Pokémon is meant to feel mysterious and rewarding. Predictably, the most dedicated fans dug into the mechanics of every system that determines how to spawn these creatures and laid out strict guides for “shiny hunting.”
With worldwide trading added into games after Diamond and Pearl, it was easier than ever before to obtain a different-language Pokémon. By breeding two Pokémon from different countries of origin, players can increase the odds of hatching one of these uniquely-colored creatures. Dubbed “The Masuda Method,” this quickly became the most reliable route to shiny Pokémon.
Dataminers at the competitive forum Smogon determined that organically, the odds of a shiny Pokémon appearing is 1 in 8192. Using the Masuda Method, every egg hatched has an improved 1/1365 chance. While this is certainly an appealing odds increase, it still leaves nearly 1500 normal Pokémon to be hatched on average before encountering a shiny.
When Pokémon Black and White were released in 2011, I became obsessed with the Masuda Method. I was on the GTS almost every day, searching for as many foreign Pokémon as I could fit in my collection. My crowning achievement was obtaining a Japanese Ditto, which as a result of its ability to mimic other monsters, is compatible with all of them. That meant I could breed any of my Pokémon to try for a shiny egg. And try I did.
I got sucked into shiny hunting as a means of finding Pokémon that were truly unique, that I wasn’t meant to have. To me, the feeling of entering a battle with friends and sending out an oddly colored Serperior would demonstrate my dedication to the game. Having a shiny Pokémon was a rare, meaningful occurrence — and I wanted as many as I could get my hands on.
“Your Pokémon was holding an egg!”
In Black and White, the daycare is found on Route 3, just outside the quiet chateaus of Striaton City. As if the designers knew how popular the Masuda Method would be, a long plot of land cuts horizontally along the route itself. This stretch is perfect for running back and forth to hatch eggs and talking to the daycare manager to pick up more.
I found a good deal of shiny Pokémon using the Masuda method. Seeing my shiny Snivy, Sneasel, Eevee, and Dratini emerge from their eggs were some of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had playing games. At the time, I was elated and encouraged to see all that time paid off with a hard-to-find trophy. But now, I can only think about the thousands of Pokémon I deemed unworthy.
My save file in Pokémon White has stopped keeping track after 999 hours and 59 minutes. No difference is noted for minutes spent battling or hours wasted running in circles — it treats every second the same. I genuinely don’t know how much time I spent walking up and down that one route, mindlessly holding the D-pad, glancing down at the screen to examine every single egg as it hatched.
After hatching a party full of eggs that weren’t the one, I’d return to the Pokémon PC to release all the “failures.” For all intents and purposes, they could have been valuable, useful members of any team. Sure, they’d need to level up and evolve, but other than their underdeveloped stats, there was nothing wrong with them
Not that I cared. I was fixed on one goal: the shiny. And until I found it, a lot more Pokémon would be dismissed.
Hatch and Release
The game makes it hard to get rid of monsters by accident, asking several times if you’re sure you want to do it, and telling you to say goodbye as you watch the sprite shrink away as it’s sent off. But I quickly grew desensitized.
The entire process became an idle routine — I’d hatch eggs while watching TV, eating meals, or riding in the car. Most of that time was spent mindlessly riding my bike past the same stationary characters, the same rustic scenery. Aside from a handful of occasions, it always ended with sending a massive swath of baby Pokémon to their digital graves.
That may sound dramatic, but Pokémon has always been dogged by an almost comedic lack of in-game morality contrasting with its messages about friendship and teamwork. How many jokes have been made equating battles to cockfights? Even PETA felt the need to demonize the franchise for glorifying animal violence. This dissonance was always easy to overlook, but I feel a different kind of self-reproach when I consider the Masuda Method.
My time spent trying to find those rare monsters yielded exactly what I was looking for, but that allure has lost its luster. Now I have a box full of shiny Pokémon I can show off anytime I boot up my game, as well as an empty feeling. I lost a lot of time looking for them, and I lost a lot of freshly-hatched Pokémon in that search. The Masuda Method lured me in with the promise of an easy way to find what I was looking for and ended up corrupting my memories of an all-time favorite game.
One simple trick took what was meant to be a surprising, delightful mechanic and twisted it into a grueling grind. Trying to find the specific creature I wanted sounded easier than ever before — but it was still a serious ordeal. I could never count the number of Pokémon I released while using the Masuda Method. I can’t say how many hours of my life I spent circling back and forth between the same two towns in the Unova region. And honestly, I don’t want to think about it.