Sciencing the Shit Out of Pokemon Sun and Moon's Alolan Vulpix

Quit raging over Alolan Vulpix. Science says that it makes sense.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: What Pokemon do is not evolution. Evolution in nature relates back to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Dictionary.com says that evolution is “change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.” In plain terms, evolution requires parents and offspring. What Pokemon do is metamorphosis. Dictionary.com says this is “a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism.”

I’m not sure why the creators of Pokemon use the word evolution over metamorphosis. According to our friends at Dictionary.com, evolution is actually a lesser known word than metamorphosis, and it also scores a lot lower on Words with Friends.

However, in Pokemon Sun and Moon, we see actual evolution. Well, we don’t actually see it happen, but the Alolan versions of preexisting Pokemon are, in fact, evolutions of the previous Pokemon. One of the most hotly (pun intended) contested Pokemon on Alola is Vulpix. How dare they change the fundamental aspects of a most-sacred Pokemon! That kind of thing could never happen in nature, right? Hmm, perhaps we should science the shit out of that to find out.

I should first address the idea that a canine-like creature breathing fire or ice is pretty absurd to begin with and I don't plan on tackling that bit of insanity just yet. But it's not unusual for nature to take some very strange turns. Take for instance the bombardier beetle. Although this little bug doesn’t exactly breathe fire, it does spray extremely hot liquid from its abdomen, accompanied by a loud popping noise. This noise and the resulting smoke-like plume of vapor that follows is where the insect got its name. If a bug can do that in our universe, I will accept (for now) that a dog can breathe fire or ice.

I cannot accept that a species can change itself so drastically without scientific precedent. Is there a scientific precedent for the two different types of Vulpixes? As a matter of fact, yes.

In Mass Effect 2, Salarian geneticist Mordin Solus questioned why the Collectors would choose humans for their genetic experiments. He came to the conclusion that the Collectors choose humans because of the species' diversity in not only physical appearance, but in its adaptability and intelligence. In the lore of the game, humans have been able to conform themselves to many of the worlds of the galaxy, far beyond any other species.

On Earth, there is probably no mammalian species as diverse as the dog. (Sorry, humans.) We have dogs that can easily fit in your hand and ones that are the size of a small horse. All are considered canines, and all can more or less be crossbred. In fact, the genetics of dogs are so diverse that man’s-best-friend can actually be mixed with other species of canine like wolves. Like the Collectors from ME2, we humans breed dogs because of the variety of work, comfort, and entertainment that they can provide.

As it happens, Vulpix is a canine. 

It’s unfortunate that we don’t know exactly when the humans brought the Vulpix to the Alolan islands, but according to the official website, it was humans who brought the Vulpix to live with them in the high mountain regions of the islands. So it was also likely that humans created the new ice-type Vulpix. But how did they do it? There are no ice-type Vulpix as it is, and the “evolved” Vulpix, Ninetails, is not an ice-type either. We might have to go about this another way.

I looked through the Pokedex to see if there was anything in there that could be a feasible match for Vulpix. And there really isn’t. Vulpix is an unevolved Pokemon. And although there are Pokemon who are ice-type and not evolved, Alolan Vulpix is the only unevolved canine that’s ice-type. That means that we have to do something tricky.

An Evee can morph into an ice-type called Glaceon, but it takes very specific circumstances do that. Then a Pokemon breeder would have to somehow get a Ninetails to breed with a Glaceon. Then if breeding is anything like breeding dogs in real life, it could take a person’s whole lifetime and several generations of Glaceon-Ninetail mixed to finally get a pup that has the abilities of a Vulpix but in ice-form.

There is another way

This can’t be a Science the Shit Out of Video Games article without mentioning some crazy fringe science. And today’s word is CRISPR. This stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” and what it means for biological science is possibly the cure for everything. The long and short of CRISPR is that it can take a sequence of DNA, change it, and distribute it throughout the rest of the body. On the low end, CRISPR means that we can adjust animal DNA so that it’s more fit for certain work. On the high end, we could possibly cure cancer or wipe malaria off the face of the planet.

Of course, my first thought is to use CRISPR to convert Vulpix to an Ice Vulpix by splicing in come Glaceon DNA sequences. Obviously, that would be the best use of that technology; who wants to cure cancer?

And that's how we arrive at Alolan Vulpix -- god-like meddling at a molecular level. 

That is how I science the shit out of Pokemon Sun and Moon, but science isn’t science unless it’s questioned and re-tested. How do you think  Alolan Vulpix was created from Vulpix? Let me know your answers in the comments below. And if you have any other suggestions for what I should science the shit out of next, let me know in the comments or on Twitter; I do my best to reply to everyone who reaches out to me. See you next week.

Published Sep. 23rd 2016
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