Imagine we are sitting in a cold freezer whose door has been frosted shut. As you slowly succumb to hypothermia beside me, I turn to face you, and a mysterious synth tune begins to play.
“Hey,” I ask, “have you ever heard of a bootstrap paradox?”
A bootstrap paradox is a self-contained error in time. Let’s say you, in the future, knit a hat to wear. However, you have crafted this hat for a specific purpose: it will help a version of you in the past to navigate a harsh landscape. You venture back in time and give your past-self this hat. Time then resumes, and history is overwritten; the origin point of your hat will no longer exist, because your past self had it before it was made.
If we apply the conspiratorial stylings of the Zero Escape series to Pokemon Legends: Arceus (i.e. if you are as unhinged as I am), you may notice that PLA creates a very similar bootstrap paradox. Whether a happy accident or an esoteric storytelling choice, one piece of the series’ history is overwritten thanks to the presence of a beloved manmade Pokemon.
In Hisui, we are reunited with our old friend Porygon, the Virtual Pokemon. Created by Silph Company scientists on Cinnabar Island in Kanto, Porygon is a Pokemon entirely composed of digital code. It journeys through cyberspace to root out suspicious data and computer viruses — according to Bulbapedia, “some believe Porygon has the power to potentially travel in space”. Perhaps they weren’t so far off.
For the following theory to make sense, you’ll have to put on your Zero Escape hat, and trust me when I say the following events occur simultaneously in one hypothetical, suspended moment in time…
- In the present (circa Gen I), scientists at Silph Co. create Porygon in a laboratory on Cinnabar Island.
- In the past (circa PLA), Volo unseals Giratina and destabilizes reality, causing space-time distortions to form.
In these distortion rifts, players can find Porygon alongside a host of other rare or regional-variant Pokemon. Porygon, however, is the only manmade construct among them; it has been zooped (technical term) back in space-time as a result of Volo’s actions, and thus exists impossibly in both the future and the past. The bootstrap paradox reveals itself here: was Porygon created at the Cinnabar Lab, or had it always existed hundreds of years before its origin point in pre-modern Sinnoh?
If we assume that the player character’s completed Hisuian Pokedex survives in the form of Sinnoh historical records, archaeologists would logically find evidence of Porygon in its pages. This is where things get interesting: let’s imagine ourselves as miniature Kotaro Uchikoshis and entertain several different ways to resolve the Porygon paradox.
- Consider how Hisuians, with no access to modern computer technology, would rationalize the existence of a Pokemon made entirely of programmed polygons. Based on its appearance, perhaps they might describe it as “a floating woodblock Pokemon”. From there, let’s imagine that scientists at Silph Co. are later exposed to Survey Corps archives via research colleagues abroad in Sinnoh. Perhaps they were inspired to render “ancient illustrations of a strange woodblock Pokemon” in 3D. Thus, Porygon is born; the scientists unknowingly gave themselves the idea for their own invention in an incredible act of Poke-ception. Christopher Nolan, eat your heart out.
- Multiple dimensions are an integral part of the lore in Pokemon: Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire and Pokemon: Sun/Moon. If we assume that alternate dimensions continue to exist in the series going forward, we could say that Porygon only exists in Pokemon Legends: Arceus because a rift pulled it from the main series’ reality into a parallel instance of Sinnoh’s history (Hisui). This would essentially make Porygon to Hisui what Ultra Beasts are to Alola. After all, in their home dimensions, Ultra Beasts were just normal Pokemon; they only frighten us because they’re unlike anything we have ever seen in our own instance of reality. How many more Pokemon might have been quietly traded between dimensions? Most people would never know.
- There is a possibility that the Survey Corps records are lost to time following the events of PLA. The simplest way to resolve the paradox is to eliminate any evidence that Porygon ever existed in the past. It would then still be created as usual by Silph Co., as if it had never been sucked back in time by the dimensional rifts. Only a select few rumors of Porygon’s ancient presence might have been preserved through inherited folk memory and hand-me-down campfire stories. Imagine waking up to the news that scientists have created a Pokemon that looks exactly like a creature described in your great-great-grandma’s journal entries. No one would believe you, would they?
Unless future story updates or the writing team for PLA confirm the game takes place in a completely separate universe, any of these explanations could be true. Or better yet, in our collective imagination (a sort of morphogenetic field, if you will), they could all be true at once.
From Creepypastas like Ben Drowned to Expert Gamer’s purported Dragonite Yoshi evolution, bizarre rumors and fake cheats extend the cultural lifespan of our favorite games. These mysteries lead fans into a second, more metatextual adventure beyond the boundaries of the source material. Even 24 years after its release, Super Mario 64 saw a hype resurgence when some of its source code was leaked in July 2020— the presence of Luigi’s model in the game data rekindled the “L is Real 2401” controversy, sparking new discussion among fans. To guess, imagine, and explore the esoteric unknowns of a game is to breathe new life into its world.
We speak back to the games we play in the form of urban legends, like whispers on a digital wind.
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