Does a Pikachu lose legitimacy if you didn’t organically breed and train it yourself? What if you hacked a copy of a game and created it? Both are virtual, but is one less valid? I don’t think any of the great philosophers pondered the ethics of hacked Pokémon, but these questions have long served as the center of debate within the ranks of the world’s best competitive Pokémon players.
During the 2023 Pokémon World Championships in Yokohama, Japan, a number of players were disqualified for using hacked Pokémon. In a recent interview with gameland.gg, one pro player estimated as many as 90% of players in tournaments use hacked Pokémon. To some, this reveal is scandalous: These are supposed to be the world’s best players. Why would they need to cheat? However, the debate brings up genuine questions about the challenges of training and catching Pokémon fit for competitive play. It also brings up questions about the strictness of the rules behind competitive play, and the way that current versions of Pokémon, including Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, lack certain gameplay features that would benefit top competitive players.
First, it’s important to note that competitors are not using hacks to create Pokémon that surpass the limits of what’s mathematically or strategically possible in the game. A Pokémon’s stats vary within a set range based on a number of factors — take a Pokémon like Dragonite, for example, and its speed stat. The slowest possible Dragonite will always be faster than the fastest possible Slowbro, because the range of Dragonite’s speed stat is higher than Slowbro’s. If you hacked a Slowbro into your game that was faster than a Dragonite, that would be clear-cut cheating, because it’s not possible to achieve by playing the game normally.