Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
If there’s one thing that’s universally beloved about pretty much every Pokémon that isn’t Ryan Reynolds or Meowth, it’s that the weird little god-monsters generally can’t talk. Sure, sometimes you have to field an occasional “Pika” or “BLASTOISE!” from the peanut gallery, but the fact remains that no Pokémon—except, again, maybe Deadpool Pikachu—has ever told a human being to go fuck their own mother.
This simple difference has made the new Pokémon spin on the wildly popular MOBA genre, Pokémon Unite, fairly unique in the annals of the nascent genre. Anyone who’s ever spent much time with Dota 2 or League Of Legends, the most prominent exemplars of modern MOBA-dom, knows that the conversation in those games often begins with being told to fuck one’s mother, before progressing to what might be termed “actual rudeness.” The companies that run these games do their dangedest to cut down on the toxicity of their communities, but the fact remains: If you log into LOL, you’re generally only seconds away from being invited to partake of some graphically described mother fucking.
Given the high pressures that can accompany these games, it’s easy enough to see why it might go down like this, and why Unite’s tweaks to the massively lucrative formula, which has spawned numerous imitators since it grew out of the Warcraft modding community in the early 2000s, might cut down on the aforementioned requests/demands. The simplest, of course, being that the ability to talk to other people has been safely locked away. Unite has some rudimentary communication tools—and they largely serve to work for the game’s pared-down take on the genre’s “kill neutral monsters, dunk on enemy goals, try not to die” gameplay—but you’re generally safe from anything more vulgar than a roared “Bulbasaur!” Sure, you could hop through multiple menus and hook up a headset to turn the game’s voice chat on, but… why would you do that? Nintendo’s gotten a lot of crap over the years for the general terror with which the company regards online interactions, but it’s very hard to fault them after you’ve spent thirty minutes or so being “online interacted with” in a standard Dota 2 game.
Beyond that, though, Unite also dials back on many of the psychological factors that might lead to the genre’s maximal motherfuckitude. Games are refreshingly brief—typically 5 or 10 minutes—so even if one of your teammates does screw the Poochyena, you’re only down a couple of minutes of your life, versus the half-hour plus of a more traditional MOBA game. The relative simplicity of the controls, and the streamlining of builds, also keep the game from hitting the kind of obsessive skill ceilings that might lead a player to turn into a frothing rage demon every time their teammates inadvertently feed a little more XP to an enemy Eldegoss. And it can’t be denied that the sheer cuteness of everything helps: Can you really tell that adorable Snorlax to go to town on its dear old mother? It’s at least enough to give one pause.