I have a complicated relationship with gacha games, which means I have a complicated relationship with gambling. I’ve loved my share; one glance at the list of games tied to my Google Play library provides more proof of that than you’d ever need. But a necessary asterisk marks that love — the same one that adds a sickly tinge of guilt to the fun I’ve had in games with paid loot boxes and during the couple casino trips I’ve made with friends. It’s like having a pleasant rapport with a confirmed conman. Even though I’ve been spared the worst of his predatory tactics, only costing me a few bucks here and there (and more of my time than I’m proud to admit), the fun I’ve had along the way directly enabled him to sharpen his techniques for those more vulnerable.
Luckily, I’ve found a guilt-free replacement for when the gacha pull hunger hits: eggs — or, as intellectuals call them, “nature’s lottery.”
Over the summer, I slipped into a monster-breeding fugue state in Pokemon Sword. I’m not sure what to blame. Maybe it was my curiosity over how hard a Darmanitan hatched with a perfect attack stat could hit. Maybe it’s because my partner found a shiny Growlithe within an hour of picking up Pokemon Shield and I am a jealous child. Or maybe it’s just because it’s physically impossible to see a shiny Rowlet and not want to be its best friend. Regardless of how I started, I arrived at a realization somewhere between my seventieth and eightieth Rowlet egg: I was playing the distilled ideal of a gacha game.
Breeding for a shiny Pokemon or one with a perfect set of intrinsic stats is like boiling the gacha model down to its most fundamental components. The hallmarks are all there: the chance at a rare virtual reward, the flashy opening animation, the repetitive gameplay loop. But, in a traditional gacha, that loop is unsustainable by design, for the sake of selling solutions to manufactured frustrations with artificial urgency. You’re pressured to shell out for premium currency to refill your stamina meter and daily completion limits, or to accelerate that loop with skip tickets. Maybe you can bypass the loop altogether and buy your 10x draws and guaranteed four to five-star pulls directly. If you’re lucky enough to draw that SSR character you’re chasing, you’ll only enjoy their full potential once you ascend them (meaning, of course, that you need to gamble for them again). And don’t forget: your chance to pick up that character only lasts as long as the limited-time event. Who knows if they’ll ever be available again?
In Pokemon breeding, however, there’s no show made of selling you any false conveniences; the odds are just as rare. There are some options for tweaking the numbers in your favor, like the shiny charm you’re rewarded with for completing your Pokedex, or the “Masuda method” in which parent Pokemon from players with different language settings have a higher chance of producing shiny offspring. But even with every possible bonus, the chances of hatching a shiny in Pokemon Sword and Shield are only 1 out of 512. There’s no quicker option to drop money on, unless you’re buying hacked shinies on eBay in defiance of every law and moral standard. There’s no exclusive time window, no currency to waste. Your jackpot’s inevitable, somewhere on the other side of a few hundred hatching animations.
There’s no limitation but your tolerance for running in circles with a backpack full of eggs, nothing but your own patience in the way. It’s honest. It’s miserable. I love it.
The appeal isn’t just in freedom from attempted extortion. In a proper gacha, you inevitably collect most of your characters while hoping for someone else. With the exception of a lucky Venti draw, all my Genshin Impact party members were pulled while my sights were set elsewhere. Whatever affection I have for them has been built retroactively — at least in part as a coping mechanism to fill the void where a cooler five-star character would be in a luckier world. But in Pokemon breeding, while the rare prize isn’t surprising, it’s one I usually like better because I was motivated to get it from the start.
More importantly, the prize feels less interchangeable. Even accounting for small stat variations and whatever fun hat I force him to wear, my five-star Hector in Fire Emblem Heroes is fundamentally the same as anyone else’s. The characters we collect aren’t ours; they’re independent, authored characters with established histories. With your Pokemon, it’s easier to feel uniquely invested. While I definitely don’t have the only shiny Decidueye, there’s something special in knowing I probably have the only Naive-natured shiny Decidueye named Peaks who likes to thrash about. Sometimes he has curry with a haunted teacup. It’s great.
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As a last point in favor of the egg lottery: it’s not a closed system. Whatever you win while gambling in a gacha is never going to leave the premises. The casino’s a prison for its winnings. I’m never going to be able to carry my Genshin Impact or Fire Emblem Heroes characters over to a different game. Sure, there are crossover events, and some gacha games have gotten sequels. But seeing your gacha character elsewhere requires you to gamble on yet another machine.
Meanwhile, Peaks has pretty good odds of sticking with me. As long as Pokemon games have some method for trading with older generations, your prize can come with you—even if it requires a couple link cables. When you’re breeding Pokemon, you’re not just chasing a jackpot. You’re investing in your future. Specifically, a future in which you’re sweeping the newest Pokemon game with your legacy Darmanitan, who you’d bred to be strong enough to punch a clean hole through God.