A colleague of mine wondered why Pokemon GO uses the passive voice when reporting,
Pikachu was caught!
The simple reason is nostalgia—that’s the phrasing from the original Generation 1 Pokemon games.
Was there a limitation inherent in the medium at the time that required using the passive voice? Below I’ll dig into the disassembled Pokemon Red source code to answer the question of why Pokemon Go uses passive voice.
text macro starts writing text, printing out the string
"All right!". Then the
line macro prints a special character
"@" at the beginning of the bottom line in the text box. The
TX_RAM macro looks up a stored chunk of text based on the address stored in
wEnemyMonNick, which points at the current enemy pokemon’s name, and prints the name in the text box. Then another
text macro starts writing
" was" following the enemy pokemon’s name. And finally, the
cont macro scrolls text to the next line, printing
I couldn’t find a good reference, but I’m pretty sure that the
@ character is acting as a newline character, more commonly
\n these days.
The final text looks something like:
All right!\n Pikachu was caught!!\n \n
Now you’ve seen the implementation of the text for catching pokemon. Is there a technical reason for choosing to use passive voice?
TX_RAM can only be used with a
text macro. Based on a cursory glance over the text, I’d say that this is likely to be the case. But that doesn’t prevent the developers from choosing to say
You caught Pikachu!
Could the developers have used a more active voice? Yes! Refer to this link battle text for an example of
TX_RAM beginning a dialogue.
The word “you” occurs 171 times in the Pokemon red codebase, without controlling for contents of text strings vs method and variable names.
There seems to be a general tendency to use “you” to refer to things that the player does, such as connecting the link cable between two Gameboys to trade pokemon, rather than the player character’s actions in the game. So that could have been a good reason to choose the passive voice. Also, there could be some reasoning behind matching the original Japanese text that I’m missing here.