We Need More Dirtbag Pokemon Gym Leaders

Pokemon Gyms have evolved a lot over the years. Originally, gyms were much closer to their namesake. They resembled boxing gyms – albeit filled with conveyor belts and invisible walls. Over time, Gyms have become stadiums and arenas. As the scope and graphics have improved, gym battles have become public spectacles, and Gym Leaders in turn have become international celebrities.

While I enjoy the grandeur and fanfare around a good Gym Battle – especially when I’m the one winning them – I also miss the days when gyms were a more intimate and casual affair. Elevating every Gym Leader to celebrity status has had a homogenizing effect. The differences between their personalities is somewhat blunted by the fact that they all represent the same class of elite, high society people. We need more Gyms on the wrong side of the tracks, and we need more dirtbag Gym Leaders.

If not for the sake of variety, consider how strange it is that every gym has become a version of Madison Square Garden. It’s well established that the Pokemon League has some pretty dubious economics. Gym Leader salaries are largely covered by the meager fees trainers pay when they lose Gym Battles, and upkeep is likely subsidized by unpaid Pokemon labor. Gyms, at least outside of Galar, aren’t exactly money-making machines. It would be reasonable to expect a few more Gym Leaders to lead a bohemian lifestyle, and it would be interesting to see some Pokemon Gyms that are just scraping by. This isn’t something the games have explored, but financial hardship must be a reality for many rural and underpopulated gyms.

What if there was a Gym Leader that operates out of his mom’s basement? Some slobbish underachiever that is only able to hang onto his title because no one else in his town has the space to host Gym Battles. I’d like to see a Gym Leader that lives in a van and conducts Gym Battles under a bridge. Give us Gym Leaders that live like e-athletes, guys that wake up at noon, chug G Fuel, and practice until they’re blurry-eyed and delirious. I want a Gym Leader that only eats fast food and drinks nothing but soda. I want the gang from Always Sunny as Gym Leaders.

Sword & Shield’s Piers is the perfect example of the kind of dirtbag Gym Leader we need. Spikemuth has neither a Power Spot nor an official Gym. When you face Piers after fighting your way through his gang of Team Yell Grunts, the battle takes place in an alley where his punk band practices. Spikemuth is a run-down and largely abandoned city with a grungy, punk-rock Gym Leader, so it’s no surprise that it’s the most interesting and unique Gym Battle in the game. Instead of one-off outliers, Gym Leaders like Piers should be represented just as much as the more polished and camera-ready Gym Leaders.

I hope that Scarlet & Violet can break from Galar’s FC-style gyms to give us more diversity and, hopefully, degeneracy. It’s fun to idolize superstars like Cynthia and Leon, but the honest truth is that dirtbags are a lot more relatable, at least to most of us. I’d much rather hang out with a Gym Leader that turns their underwear inside-out to wear them again than the one that just signed a multi-million dollar modeling contract. There’s already enough celebrity worship in real life, Pokemon should give some love to the world's dirtbag heroes too.

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