Perfection is something many strive for but few obtain. In the world of Pokémon, perfection is shrouded in hidden mechanics and obscured by a meta-game often seen as tiresome by hardcore players. For the Pokémon breeders, genners and hackers, perfection lies in the unravelling and recombination of digital DNA in a bid to create flawless replicants. Welcome to the Pokémon black market, a community built on ethical reproduction with more than its fair share of grey areas.
Gotta catch 'em all is a motto most Pokémon fans know well, but there is a portion of the community that has gone beyond even this ambitious catchphrase and pushed past the limitations of the game. These people have transitioned from collection to creation. The structure of this subgroup is simple: the hackers create the programs, the genners produce the Pokémon and the traders distribute them.
Perhaps the most important role is that played by the genners. Consider them Pokémon's geneticists. They design what the community desires. Self-confessed trader and genner, Refisio told Eurogamer about the community's often generous breeders.
"In essence, a Pokémon genner is just a producer of Pokémon. However, this isn't really the case: Pokémon genners are considered, by the community, as people who use sources outside of normal gameplay to create or edit Pokémon, usually through applications such as PokeGen or PKHeX."
There is a philanthropic nature to the genner community. Genners often hand out perfect 6IV Dittos, a much sought after necessity for the serious breeder. IVs are what you could consider a Pokémon's genes, which are attributed randomly by the game. Breed a Pokémon with perfect IVs with another flawless Pokémon and you have a chance of obtaining perfect offspring. The benefit of Dittos is that they can breed with pretty much any other Pokémon, which obviously inflates their value on the black market.
There are other things you need to consider as well, such as EVs, special items and a Pokémon's nature, which again is applied randomly. This, in itself, is the main motivating factor for many hackers and genners who get involved with this active community. The time needed to complete this process and the vast amount of external knowledge required to understand the games' meticulous hidden mechanics has driven many players onto the black market out of frustration.
Not all are after a time saver, though. Curiosity brought some eager to learn into the fold. Others relist the technical challenge hacking presents. There are also those who are involved for the pure fun of it all, and even some who just stumbled upon the world of Pokémon genning by chance, as one anonymous hacker told Eurogamer.
"I purchased a used 2DS and with it came a note that said: 'Browserhax is installed in this DS.' I investigated further and found out what I could do. At that time, I only made Pokémon for myself (I hadn't entered reddit yet)."
Communities of traders and genners have gathered on all corners of the internet, from message boards and forums to groups like r/PokemonPlaza and r/BreedingDittos on reddit. JFSushi, a mod over on PokémonPlaza told Eurogamer a bit about how they joined the scene.
"When I first joined this community, many people here helped me get my favorite Pokémon. Now I have access to hacks, I use them to give back to the community as a whole."
Not all the traders on Pokémon's black market have such a generous disposition. Some consider their work to have value, and where there's demand there's a chance for profit. Selling Pokémon won't make you a millionaire, with most desired Pokemon only fetching somewhere in the region of Ł0.37 to Ł1.50. Violet, one such trader, gave us her take on the genning community.
"I got into creating hacked Pokémon because I just honestly found it fun and entertaining. I enjoyed seeing what I could do that's still legal in tournaments and online play.
"I sell on PerfectPokemon, and quite frankly I think it's completely ethical. I mean, they know they're generated and most actually WANT to get ones with bigger specs. I just needed money, and honestly, I still do. It seemed like the easiest way, and in a way, I'm giving back to one of my favourite communities."
Hacking has a noticeably different reception in the Pokémon community compared to almost all other video game scenes, where hacking is often seen as an unforgivable act of delinquency. Here, it's something the community accepts as a mutually beneficial relationship, with even strict legal breeders owning questionable 6IV Dittos of unknown origin.
In this way, the Pokémon black market is the series' worst kept secret. Everyone knows the majority of competitive teams online are suspect, but you rarely hear about it in discussions surrounding the games. Learningtarot, a Pokémon trader and genner, gave us their thoughts on why people seek out these dubious creations.
"I think for most people, it's just seen as a time-saver. At the start of Sun/Moon, I told myself I was going to breed my first team of Pokémon, and use the new gold bottle cap mechanic for any legendary I wanted. It's just a miserable waste of time. I honestly hate it.
"I could force myself to go through a process I absolutely hate, or I could gen the Pokémon, something that will save me the headache and will cause no ill-effect to other players. I'll choose the latter every time, and I think most people who hack are the same."
As Pokémon has become more competitive over the years, the demand for viable, online teams has only increased. Game Freak, the developer of the Pokémon video games, has tried to address this issue by making the breeding process more transparent to players in recent entries in the series, but the problem remains. Hacked Pokémon have even turned up in official world tournaments in the past.
"Pokemon used in competitive battles, for example, need to have maximum values in each of the six stats (1/32 chance for each of the six stats), a beneficial nature (1/25 chance) and correct ability (between 5/5 and 2/5 chance, depending on species), meaning you could have to breed/catch hundreds before you get the statistics you're looking for." JFSushi explains.
One thing that stands out about the Pokémon hacking community is the unwritten code of ethics genners and traders seem to follow. For them, this isn't about creating ridiculously overpowered Pokémon that would, no doubt, ruin the online experience for all involved. It's about fair duplication.
In truth, obscenely modified gens would not be possible in online play due to Game Freak's legality checker, which prevents the use of impossible Pokémon. Breaking this code could result in perpetrators being ostracised from the community, which appears to help keep everyone honest.
"I think most of r/PokémonPlaza has the same ethics code as me," one anonymous genner tells Eurogamer. "No shinies and no competitive Pokémon since you earn them."
And yet, there are unrealistic Pokémon out there that have slipped through even Game Freak's legality checks and found their way online. The Pokémon Company's stance would appear pretty clear on this, as several waves of bans have hit those who have altered save files. Irrespective of how the developer views Pokémon's supposed cheats, the community continues to operates under its own self-governing laws and the production of replicants goes on.
People often talk about the Pokémon black market like it's some secretive underground exchange, a Silk Road comprised of shady hackers handing out illicit and dangerous Pokémon. The truth is Pokémon's own trading system, GTS probably has as many genned or hacked Pokémon on it as any subterranean forum. You may very well be in possession of dodgy Pokémon right now that you've loved and trained for hours. How do you even judge the authenticity of something made up of digital code? In the world of Pokémon we're all potential cheats, and the only thing that would sort the issue would be a mass deletion of all Pokémon, as PokémonPlaza mod JJOzma tells Eurogamer:
"Legitimate Pokémon are always legal, but not all legal Pokémon are legitimate."