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Pokémon Sword & Shield (Kind Of) Made Me Care About Sports

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

Let me just put it on record: I don’t like sports. Never have, never will. I never get that fabled “runner’s high” after exercising, watching them feels mind-numbing, and I’ve never understood the concept of having a favorite team because the players are total strangers to me. The only exceptions are when I go to the gym to run laps twice a week, and when I go to watch my sister’s lacrosse games; the thing about lacrosse, though, is that it’s her favorite sport and she’s literally one of the best players on her team. I want to be able to support my sister at her games and encourage her to do her best, especially since I can’t go home often enough to watch a lot of them, which means lacrosse is basically the only sport where I’ve made a genuine effort to understand how it’s meant to be played.

Pokémon, though? I love Pokémon! I get to travel the world without ever having to get in the driver’s seat! I get to live out my fantasy of having a lifelong superpowered companion without the financial burden of raising an actual pet! All of the in-game regions have free universal healthcare! And of course, I love the Pokémon battles — particularly the gym battles. They can get nerve-wracking for me once I get really attached to my team and every hit they take makes me feel like a single mom at my kid’s first baseball game, but other than that, Pokémon battles are always a good time to be had, and, as the article title suggests, kind of helped me understand the appeal behind sports.

The thing I noticed with gym battles in the games leading up to Pokémon Sword & Shield (SwSh) is that they seemed very isolated as in-game locations — other people can enter them, and you can solve the gym’s challenge and fight the other trainer NPCs blocking the way, but after that, you just fight the gym leader in a big, fancy chamber with no one else in sight, get your badge, and start making your way to the next one.

Pokémon Sword & Shield changed that, though.

As with every Pokémon game, Galar, the new region SwSh takes place in, has a unique mechanic to enhance the standard gameplay of catching Pokémon and battling trainers. For Pokémon SwSh, the new mechanic in question is Dynamax, which enables Pokémon to distort the space around them to dramatically increase their size and alter the conditions of the battlefield. And the way SwSh was able to effectively sell the mechanic was to shift the culture surrounding Pokémon battles in Galar to have them treated more like real-world sports competitions.

Pokémon Sword & Shield – Gym Leader Raihan Battle

In the world of the game, this translates into Pokémon battles taking place in massive stadiums filled with people cheering for you in the stands — or booing if the gym leader you’re fighting gets one up on you — which are also televised all across Galar. The player character and gym leaders even wear uniforms that resemble sports jerseys, and the music that plays during the gym battles incorporates the sound of people cheering in time to the music.

Dynamaxing is my absolute favorite part of the gym battles in SwSh, though — listening to the music escalate as my Pokémon grows impossibly tall in the span of a few seconds and obliterates whichever gym leader I’m fighting with moves so powerful they literally change the weather inside the stadium. Even though Pokémon is a very low-stakes franchise and the battles aren’t real (though I certainly wish they were), my feelings of excitement and anxiety and adrenaline certainly are.

And one day, while I was working through my main playthrough of the game, I simply realized: “Ohhh, that’s why people like sports.” They like the excitement, the anxiety, the adrenaline of watching their favorite team win or lose, and having other people nearby who are feeling the same things as you. It’s essentially a community-based activity for people to bond with each other over a shared sense of camaraderie and competition — granted, there’s a big difference between rooting for your favorite sports team and watching my Corviknight grow over 45 feet tall and create a hurricane in the middle of the stadium, but the sentiment is still the same.

Granted, I still don’t like sports by any means — I’ve tried ballet, soccer, gymnastics, krav maga, tennis, cross country, a bit of ice skating, and probably countless others I can’t remember off the top of my head. But if nothing else, I can at least understand why other people do, and that’s perfectly fine by me.

Trina Kolas

UC Riverside '25

Howdy! I'm a creative writing major and English minor at UCR, and I plan to become a published author and a screenwriter/showrunner in the future! I love writing original stories and fanfiction, and I listen to a lot of Mother Mother, Hypnosis Microphone, and Broadway musicals. My goal is to save up for a proper gaming computer so my laptop doesn't spontaneously combust whenever I try to play Portal or Legends of Runeterra on it.