The Pokémon franchise, founded by Satoshi Taijiri, Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures, has been around since 1996, and its popularity started with a video game called “Pocket Monsters” (hence the portmanteau) as it also branched out to various types of media like anime, manga, trading card games, toys, and more.
If you’re not familiar with Pokémon, then just to sum it up, the term generally refers to these wild yet somewhat sentient creatures — usually in the likeness of some real-life animal — that live in a fictional world where they are a common sight alongside human beings, as they’re supposedly caught, raised, bred, and trained to become beloved pets, partners in jobs and livelihood, or soldiers in competitive battle.
The concept of the video game, wherein you play as a Pokémon Trainer, had been inspired by bug collecting and linking two Game Boys to trade. So yeah, this is why the Pokémon franchise’s slogan is “Gotta catch ‘em all.”
That being said, since Pokémon are living creatures, it’s not so surprising to find out that there are male, female, and genderless Pokémon. Yes, Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu in the Pokémon anime is, in fact, a boy Pikachu. And in this article, we’ll talk about Pokémon gendering, sex-based differences in the video game’s mainline series, why it exists, and why there are Pokémon with no assigned sex (“seibetsu”) or genders.
A Brief History of Pokémon Gender in the Video Games
In the First Generation (1996-1999) of the Pokémon video games, Pokémon Red, Green/Blue, and Yellow, all 151 Pokémon had no assigned genders, but we do have Nidoran♀ and Nidoran♂, two Pokémon from a similar species that had distinct appearances and unique evolution lines based on their gender. And in hindsight, this actually precedes the idea that there are Pokémon species that are purely only female (like Chansey, Kangaskhan, Jynx, and Miltank to name a few) or male (like Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, and Tauros, among others).
It wasn’t until the Second Generation (1999-2002) games: Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal wherein 100 new kinds of Pokémon had been introduced, and including the Gen I Pokémon, all 251 Pokémon in the game had an assigned gender, but there were a few exceptions.
Magnemite and Magneton, for instance, are Pokémon based on magnets. Having a seemingly mechanical body made of a metallic alloy, screws, and horseshoe magnets kind of makes sense as to why they’re biologically genderless (or more specifically, of “unknown sex”). Mythical creatures, on the other hand, like the three Legendary Birds: Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, or the three Legendary Dogs: Raikou, Entei, and Suicune, have unknown gender, most likely because they haven’t been studied closely enough in the game to be understood in that regard. For similar reasons that lend itself to the audience’s imagination, other Pokémon like Mewtwo and Porygon remain without gender or sex.
So, if you’ve been wondering why some Pokémon don’t have genders, it’s likely because they’re creatures that either have no biological reason to bear reproductive organs or are of myth and legend, hence no explained traces of birth.
That being said, the use of “genderless” in this case, primarily refers to the Pokémon without any assigned sex or gender, which game literature defines as “unknown” when a Pokémon is neither male nor female. Currently, there are 116 “genderless” Pokémon in the game.
In the games that followed from the Third Generation (2002-2006) all the way to the Eighth Generation (2019-2022), every Pokémon (898 in total as of Gen VIII) would have been assigned as male, female or unknown. And apart from adding a bit of verisimilitude to the mythos, the gendering also played into the game and its mechanics.
Why Gender Exists in Pokémon
Since the Gen II Pokémon core games came out, a new element had been added in the game to help wannabe-Pokémon Trainers actively trying to complete their Pokedex (the Pokémon index which contains all the caught Pokémon as well as any stats and information related to their Pokémon). Pokémon breeding is a way for the player to get a new Pokémon by having a male and female Pokémon to like each other until the NPCs in the Day Care or Nursery find an egg, which then hatches later on.
Essentially, Pokémon is a collecting quest, wherein as the player, it is part of your main goals to catch all the Pokémon in every reiteration of the mainline games. So, the breeding aspect of it, considering how Pokémon are creatures that have taken the place of animals in this world, makes the gendering of every Pokémon a critical detail in the game.
But how about the “genderless” Pokémon? What happens when they’re made to breed?
Only two Pokémon that are compatible or in the same egg group and are of the opposite gender will ever produce an egg. So when a genderless Pokémon is partnered up with another to breed, it will only have a chance to produce an egg with a Ditto, another genderless Pokémon that is known to take the shape or form of another. Imagine, a gender-unknown Magnemite and a gender-unknown Ditto can possibly breed—yep, that’s video game science for you!
Anyway, it is also worth noting how there is such a thing as Pokémon categorized under an undiscovered egg group, which means that these Pokémon cannot breed and produce eggs, and are mostly Baby, Legendary, and Mythical Pokémon. So, for all the dreamers out there that want six Mewtwo’s in their team, you’ll have to cheat your game to make it happen.
Sex-Based Differences in Pokémon
Apart from breeding, the need for Pokémon to have an assigned sex or gender also helps impact the uniqueness of every specie, which then translates into how one plays the video games. A Pokémon’s gender, whether they are male or female, can also impact the following:
- In Gen II, it is a Pokémon’s physical attack individual value (IV) when compared to its gender ratio that dictates its gender. If a Pokémon’s physical attack IV is equal or lower than its species’ gender ratio, then it is a female Pokémon. This means that a Pokémon’s gender is related to its physical attack IV, which can then influence your team’s structure.
- There are Pokémon species that have gender-dependent evolutions, such as Kirlia, Snorunt, Burmy, Combee, and Salandit. Kirlia, for instance, has two evolutions, Gallade and Gardevoir, depending on whether it is a male or female. Meanwhile, it is only a female Combee that can evolve into Vespiquen.
- A Pokémon’s gender also influences the effectiveness of some moves like Attract, which when used against a Pokémon of the opposite gender, decreases the likelihood that the opposing Pokémon will attack due to infatuation. The same applies to some Pokémon abilities, like Cute Charm, an ability that may cause infatuation, or Rivalry, which on the other hand, only has an effect on an opposing Pokémon of the same gender.
- Depending on their gender, a Pokémon can learn moves or attacks and can have abilities that are specific to whether they are male or female. A male Meowstic, for example, can learn a move like Helping Hand, while a female Meowstic cannot, but will instead have another move that a male can’t possibly learn, like Shadow Ball.
- Indeedee, another Pokémon that can easily be distinguished by its appearance, are also greatly influenced by their respective gender through their stats. Male Indeedee have better stats in attack, special attack, and speed. Female Indeedee, meanwhile, have better stats in HP, defense, and special defense. They also learn different moves as well, making their gender an important consideration in choosing which one to use in battle.
- The gender of a Pokémon can also determine how it looks. Depending on whether a Pikachu is male or female will be noticeable, albeit subtly, in its tail. A male Pikachu will look like how it has always been, while a female Pikachu will sport a heart-shaped tip in its tail. Interesting detail, right? Check out this list from Bulbapedia for all the differences in appearance due to gender in Pokémon, which had been introduced in the Fourth Generation of the core games.
The Bigger Picture that Pokémon Games and Gendering Offers
Initially, I had just wanted to explore the concept behind why some Pokémon were considered “genderless” as a way to write about Pokémon for Women’s History Month. However, the coverage had broadened and I then found myself digging deeper into the gendering of Pokémon with no smoother way to connect it to this month’s theme, but that’s ok.
Pokémon is among the popular RPG/adventure games that allow the player to choose between male and female characters as the avatar, which I think is worth mentioning, given how it’s the best time to emphasize the significance of women in our society. The Pokémon world doesn’t have to revolve around the journey of a boy, because the hero can be a girl. In fact, across eight generations of the game, the strongest Pokémon Champion is Cynthia, an archeologist with at least four female Pokemon in her teams in the different games.
Having played the earlier Pokémon games as a boy, I’d always focused on becoming Pokémon Champion and never really placed too much priority on completing the Pokédex, so breeding wasn’t something I regularly did in the game. But in retrospect, while having just started on Pokémon Legends: Arceus, the collecting aspect is a reflection of how the core Pokémon games should be played. It’s the only real way to know more about these wild and weird creatures. After all, understanding the importance of a Pokémon’s gender and how it can affect the game is part of it, grinding it out against the RNG, and catching ‘em all is the mark of a real Pokémon Master—and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy, girl, or gender unknown.
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Used to write for pizza. Now writes for pizza in the Philippines.