Video games online can be a lonely, unpleasant, and unfriendly place. Whether people are yelling at you for being bad, being a woman, or just being in general (how dare you), there’s always some reason that you’ll end up feeling sad instead of good, which is probably how you wanted to feel, given that you’re playing a video game. But Wonder Trade — part of the newest Pokémon games, Sun and Moon — is something completely special. It might even be the kindest, sweetest, loveliest thing that’s happened in games for some time.
It’s a simple enough idea, and one that so easily could have backfired, gone completely unused, or ignored: People choose which Pokémon they want to trade, and they get paired up randomly with someone else who’s done the same. It’s almost completely anonymous — though you see their name and location, you have no way of really knowing who they are or ever finding them in real life — and that’s what makes it such a surprisingly touching thing.
You might expect from a system like this, one that neither rewards nor punishes you for what you throw out into the ether of the global trading pool, that people would take advantage. You might expect that the damn thing is drowning in Magikarps and Rattatas. But if it were, no one would use it, and that, somehow, has made all the difference.
People use Wonder Trade because it is, as the name implies, a wonder. Even if you are that asshole who only sends out Magikarps and Rattatas, you are far more likely to receive something incredible in return: a rare, Shiny Pokémon, something with near-perfect IVs (those, for the uninitiated, are your Pokémon’s stats; they dictate how good your Pokémon is in battle, basically), or a Starter Pokémon, which are hard to get without breeding one yourself or trading with a friend.
It’s worth pointing out that one of the main reasons behind this is IV training. When people are trying to breed a Pokémon with great stats, that often means they’ll end up with a bunch of imperfect Pokmon — and yes, that is a bit like putting your dud children up for adoption, but the fact of the matter is that they’ll end up with new parents that actually want them.
If you don’t care about how much Speed or Special Defense your Pokémon has, you won’t mind that you’ve received someone else’s castoffs. Though this doesn’t seem quite as wholly altruistic than people just giving away things for no reason, remember: That person could just release that castoff into the wild. If anything, that’s probably quicker. They’re still being kind; it’s like giving away clothes that don’t fit you any more rather than just putting them in the trash or setting fire to them.
Regardless of the reason, though, this kind of thing, receiving a surprisingly rare Pokémon in a trade, happens a lot. Twitter and Reddit are full of stories of unexpected kindness from a stranger who might never see their kindness repaid. Friends will regale you with stories of how they swapped a Haunter for an Alolan Vulpix, which is a Pokémon only available in the Sun version. Even if you give it a try and all you get is duds for the first ten goes, you can just keep trying without penalty. There really is nothing to lose.
The most remarkable thing about Wonder Trade, in the end, is that it’s so against everything we’ve been taught to expect from humanity. Usually, people suck. Given any amount of power, people will abuse it, and take advantage of it.
Sometimes, as trite as it may seem, the good in people comes through when you offer them just enough trust. In most cases, that wouldn’t be worth it. With Wonder Trade, it works surprisingly well. There are no systems to encourage goodness or punish bad behavior in Wonder Trade, except for the fact you can endlessly trade and re-trade any duff Pokémon you get, so you never really lose anything.
But, let’s be honest, there are still a lot of duff Pokémon on there. For every wonderful event — like last Christmas, when several groups of people organised unofficial events across Twitter and Reddit that encouraged people to flood Wonder Trade with rare Pokémon, Legendaries, Event Pokmon and Shinies — there is also one where people insist on trolling the community with endless Rattatas, Magikarps, and Zubats.
But there will always be ten times the amount of crappy fish, birds, and bats for every unicorn and dragon. The lesson to be learned here is that people can surprise you sometimes, especially when your hopes are already as low as they can be.
People can be wonderful with no reason to be other than the thought that someone out there might have a good day because of something small that they did. Wonder Trade can’t solve all the awful stuff that happened in 2016, and it won’t solve all the awful stuff that’s about to happen, and realistically, it won’t have any effect on the world at large, but maybe it’s enough, just enough, to know that kindness still exists.