It's barely about games.
During mercantilist times, in the 17th and 18th century, there was an explosion of international trade due to the growth of sea-faring technology all around the world. But language barriers still presented a problem: how could merchants trade goods across the seas if people of different worlds spoke vastly different languages? This caused a rapid development of simple sea-faring languages between people. Pidgin languages developed across ports and harbors around the world and trade flourished in new frontiers (for better and for worse.) All of this has been researched in depth by folks much smarter than I am, but last night I really wanted a Foreign Ditto in Pokemon Sword and Shield, and it took me on a very strange journey.
Pokemon Sword and Shield released this week and it is the first game in the main Pokemon franchise that has been produced for a home console. After leaving development on the 3DS, reviews have noted that many systems that were a part of the portable release are missing from this entry. One major omission is the Global Trade System, which housed the tools necessary for requesting and offering specific Pokemon to other players. The tools to communicate the simple trading of Pokemon are not only no longer available, and they have been replaced by a new system where you and your trading partner offer pokemon simultaneously and hope it is the one you and your partner want before trading. It is utter chaos, to put it bluntly. Over the global trade option, you can be matched up with anyone in the world, completely randomly, so Pokemon Sword and Shield feels like communicating on a worldwide Grindr app with only rock-paper-scissors. Swipe right to trade, or swipe left to match again. So with a very limited selection of tools, how do you ask for a specific Pokemon? How do you ask for a specific Pokemon in a language that you don’t speak? If I want a Foreign Ditto (and I do NEED a Foreign Ditto) I’m going to need to do work.
Before we do work though, let’s talk about Ditto. This is a Pokemon whose special trait is that it is the only Pokemon that can breed with almost every other Pokemon in the game, so if you want to do any competitive or collection based play at the highest levels, you are going to need a Ditto. Not just any Ditto, but the BEST Ditto: one with high stats and one that speaks a foreign language. Wait, a foreign language? Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but very simply, there is a mechanic in play in the last few games where if, say, I breed my English Pokemon with a Pokemon whose language indicator says it came from a French or Chinese game, then you greatly increase the chance that any Pokemon it breeds become “Shiny;” an extremely rare trait that people grind for with such fervor it has become its own niche of content creation on Twitch and YouTube. Pokemon added this extra shiny-grinding technique to the series once Pokemon abandoned the link cable and went global with trading during the DS era as a way to incentivize trading internationally and meeting new people. This mechanic has been lovingly called “The Masuda Method” after Pokemon Producer, Junichi Masuda. Does it work? Well, the scope of the situation was not lost on me that I was about to spend possibly hours of this evening cruising with hundreds of people in Asian and European countries soliciting for pink goo with my pink goo so that I can induce genetic mutation on all of my Pokemon. The quest for a Foreign Ditto was set, and the only thing in my way was the trading system itself and thousands of people around the world who were also hungry for hundreds of other completely different Pokemon. These people are looking for their own specific Pokemon as well, so I will inevitably be matching with people who absolutely do NOT want to see a Ditto. The Ditto trade is the cold-call telemarketer of trades. Have you heard the good word of The Masuda Method? Would you like this completely normal, uninspiring Pokemon that purely represents niche game mechanics? Out of the around 350 Pokemon available in Sword/Shield, I can’t say Ditto is in anyone’s Top 100 right now. This is where the hustle starts.
In Pokemon Sword and Shield, if you want to trade for a specific Pokemon then you’ll go into a private room with a Room Code. Just put in a code and whoever else puts in that code will show up to trade with you. This is how a normal person would trade with their friend after previously coordinating a trade with them. If I had a friend with a Foreign Ditto, I could ostensibly put in a Room Code (Like: 8337) and we’d get into Room 8337 and trade one immediately. However, I am not a globe-trotting, plane riding, champagne sipping member of the bourgeois (like those Pokemon Go players) and my rolodex starts and ends in my only learned language, so contacting a friend not only wasn’t possible but also I Wanted My Ditto NOW! So I was going to have to meet a stranger. I could have done this online outside of the game maybe on a message board or a chat room somewhere, but I decided that the fastest way would be to go straight to the source and just start randomly showing players my Ditto until they showed me their Ditto. This “Ditto-4-Ditto” method would be my first communication attempt with mixed results. I would flash my Ditto at them and if they flashed a Ditto at me, we would trade, and I would keep flashing my Ditto until they showed me a Ditto. Usually, this would result in the trade being cancelled after three flashes because they realized I was only interested in Ditto and not whatever other Pokemon they were offering. Most people who play Pokemon only have one Ditto because they only need one to start a breeding machine. More often than not, I’d meet people trying to trade the ditto-cloned brood of their starter Pokemon for a different starter Pokemon, which makes sense because as the starters you don’t pick at the beginning of this new game can only be acquired through trading with others. Through trading, I did end up getting a few people to trade for my Ditto, but it was always another English Ditto. I think they might have thought I was being funny, which I was definitely not being. This was extremely serious. Suffice to say, I needed a new tactic because communication was breaking down almost immediately, so for my next effort I tried leading with a bait.If I wanted shiny Pokemon, I decided to try leading my trades by flashing my own shiny Pokemon that I happened to naturally catch in my adventure. Maybe if they saw my shiny Pokemon and THEN a Ditto, they’d know I mean business in trading a ditto for shiny breeding purposes. In linguistics, this kind of abstraction would be known as a morpheme, a single unit of abstracted communication. Unfortunately, this plan backfired in a way: when they saw my shiny Pokemon, regardless of location or area, they saw a valuable trade opportunity and would start showing me all of their shiny Pokemon as well which lead to longer, more meandering failures, and even less Ditto. It was too valuable and distracting to players, BUT we did advance communication! People weren’t dropping trades and leaving as often and understood by imitation that shiny Pokemon meant shiny trade, and Ditto meant Ditto! I was seeing more various Pokemon even if it wasn’t what I wanted.
I needed a more limited pool of people to work with so I tried surfing through the Trade Room channels to see if maybe someone in there would be cool enough to know what I was talking about. Maybe if I knew a secret code I would find a secret club of hardcore Pokemon players who were familiar with the Masuda Method, and so I tried digging. Room 6969 was my first choice because I knew someone would be there and they wouldn’t be too picky. People there offered a wide variety of Pokemon but were not interested in something as normal as a Ditto; they wanted something weird (if they weren’t trying to foolishly meetup with a friend on the joke haha sex number, which a lot of people were.) Room 0420 was the same, but slower to trade and make choices. I also noticed that some people used the Pokemon’s Nickname to request specific Pokemon. “Got Ralts?” was pretty clear in English so I started adopting that into my routine by naming my Ditto, “metamon?”, the Romanji Japanese name for Ditto in hopes someone might know what I’m talking about. Room 1111 was people trying to make quick trades and people would leave before making a trade adding even more chaos to something that already feels plenty chaotic. All of these rooms had people ready to trade with strangers but they weren’t organized and also they were heavily American with a rare European person coming in, but definitely no Japanese, Korean, or Chinese players. I was thinking too “Western-centric,” and I’m pretty sure Chinese folks have their own sex number and weed numbers that are equally the haha funny number. Maybe if I knew what those were I could get in? But that was beyond the scope of this project because again, I want that Foreign Ditto and I Want It NOW! So I left Trade Room with a new strategy: the bargain.
The word pidgin, as in “a pidgin language”, are the forms of communication that came from the docks and harbors of the age of mercantilism. When three different languages of people came together in trade, usually a pidgin language would develop to communicate. Communicating in emoji could be a modern pidgin language, for example. It doesn’t have grammatical rules, but it is effective at communicating between languages. The word itself comes from a Chinese pronunciation for the English word ‘business’ which makes sense because a lot of business can be done with a single emoji. So to develop just a little more of an expressive language in the simple ‘flashing’ of Pokemon at strangers, I decided to delve into doing business. I needed a Pokemon that was rare and desired, but not too desired so as to derail a “conversation” that could be had over repeated flashings of Pokemon. If someone flashes you a pokemon three times in a row, that means they want to trade it and they don’t care what it is for as long as they find it valuable. If they switch between two different Pokemon though, that could mean they want more than one trade with you right now. So I used my English Ditto to breed Darumaka, a rare 5% encounter rate Pokemon that is only available in Pokemon Sword. It is something that hardcore players would want, especially if they realized that they might not have it checked off their list yet, since the game has only been out for a week. I am now specifically courting players who own Pokemon Shield and players who own Sword but don’t want to deal with trying to find a rare Pokemon. I can make an infinite supply of this Pokemon too, so the optics are pretty good as far as supply AND demand go.
Plan of Attack:
- Flash the Ditto named “metamon?”
- Flash any of the Darumaka
- If they are trading something I don’t have, Do the trade!
- Then follow up with Ditto until they show a Ditto.
Using business tact, I was now ingratiating my trading partner to follow through on further communication, and as the night was getting later I was pairing up with more Korean, Japanese, and Chinese players who were getting home from work or school, and less American players who were going to bed. Now it was time for the real show. Like bees dancing in a hive to exchange information, we flashed our Pokemon; coming and going into the hive as much as necessary to find new dance partners. Japanese players were much more focused on trading dragons and other “cool” Pokemon instead of starter Pokemon (although there was that too of course) which meant that, although rare, Darumaka was not really cool enough to entice the after-school crowd that was logging on at the time. The thing that was surprising is that I was getting much fewer Ditto-4-Ditto trades with the Asian players. It was actually not uncommon with American and Western players to trade the same monster for one another, but across the Pacific they weren’t having any of it (even though I assume they would need my Ditto for The Masuda Method as much as I would need theirs). I ended up receiving a lot of different foreign Pokemon using this method from all over Europe and Asia; it worked really well for making successful trades happen even if nobody was biting for my Ditto. The bait was working, trade channels with non-English speaking people were open longer, and I was filling out my collection! The quest for a Foreign Ditto was going to come to an end!
Except that it didn’t. Hours passed.
The very simple pidgin statement we developed worked too well, I was flashed multiple Ditto in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean but those trades never went through.
I was being teased.
They would take the bait but leave the hook empty.
I don’t think this is a viable way to find my Foreign Ditto and hope was finally becoming truly lost.
But then it just happened! I’d found merci
Trade started with [m e r c i], a name formatted in unicode English so I knew it was someone from Asia (probably Japan). I showed my English Ditto, they showed their メタモン, the Japanese word for Ditto, and immediately we both just hit [A] and accepted the trade. No other communication, just… Masuda Method, completed. The quest was over: Foreign Ditto achieved!
Obviously, Pokemon Sword and Shield’s trade system leaves a lot to be desired. If they want trading to be friendly and fun, there needs to be something better than strangers flashing each other. But with the tools here, there is a little wiggle room for legitimate language to develop. The game is too new for now, but the future of this game is really exciting! I rarely saw people multiple times in the evening of trading, but when I did they had a more complex dance they performed each time with me, as if we recognized each other. I feel like there is room in this obnoxiously simple Pokemon Trade Chat for language to develop like emojis in a phone, especially as players get more access to more different Pokemon. I think the Trade Room 0132 could be globally communicated as an official, private Ditto-4-Ditto trade room since #132 has always been Ditto’s official number in the Pokedex. Even though Pokemon didn’t develop as many tools in this game to adequately help players as previous installments did, it doesn’t mean that we can’t develop our own tools in-game to make things easier for future players! That persistence of critical thinking and creativity is in the true spirit of Pokemon, a game that is about collecting a bunch of cute monsters, but is even more about making friends and coming together in the name of competitive and collective social goals. Also, if anybody reading this wants their own Foreign Ditto and is not playing Sword/Shield in English, I am currently breeding 6IV strong Dittos to help folks out and you can find me on twitter @Solonface to organize a time and room, or I’ll be in Room #0132, and they will all have absolutely trashy nicknames.