How Are Pokecenters Free?
The universe that Pokemon exist in, the Pokeverse, if you will, is one full of remarkable treasures, incredible adventures, and unexplainable wonders. One of those wonders, is how the heck they manage to run a fully functioning poke-hospital without charging any sort of fees. There are no special items you can find in Mt Moon or on Seafoam Island that provide a low deductible poke-insurance. What is more, you never see any sort of taxes collected in the Kanto Region (it should be assumed that we are only talking about the Kanto Region for the sake of simplicity).
There are several theories that have tried to address this poke-quandry (I will try to only use a few more poke-jokes from here on out). One of those theories is that Kanto has universal healthcare or is a general socialist society. Another theory is Silph Co.(1) is an evil corporation that is secretly pulling the strings on the entire Pokemon world and is willing to heal pokemon for free so long as that keeps the evil pokemon industrial complex moving forward. And a final theory, that I just made up right here to fulfill the rule of three and doesn’t make any sense, is that they are using their high-tech recovery systems actually as cloning pods and stealing your pokemon away from you right out from under your nose(2).
Although the universal healthcare theory does hold some ground there are some key issues. First, there are no discernable taxes paid while traveling through Kanto, paying for copious amounts of repel or ultra balls, or even when making earnings from beating other trainers. Admittedly, it is possible that taxes are being paid, but I am confident that a 10 year old kid who just left Pallet town for the first time would need to know why the government is taking 35% (a number I chose at random, I swear) of his winnings when he beats the crap out of his rival for the 15th time.
I also find it hard to believe that a community with socialized healthcare doesn’t have other hallmarks of a socialist society. We do not see significant price controls in place or even discouragement of creating free trade opportunities. There are also some very wealthy members of society (Gentlemen) and some trainers who look a little worse for the wear (Biker and Cueball both look like a mess and Super Nerd looks like he recently lost his job and has nothing else to live for). These rigid classes are not one that we would expect to see from a socialist society that can also afford million dollar bikes and expensive slow-poke tail meals. Also, most socialist societies that see the kind of tranquility that Kanto sees also have a very robust industry and strong trading partners. There is no acknowledgement of outside communities and the aforementioned Silph Co. is the only industrial giant that weilds any power.
A more likely theory is that Silph Co. (makers of everything, by the way) gives out free healthcare so that they can keep people interested in the pokemon world. This actually sounds like a pretty smart, if not horribly manipulative, plan if not for a couple of issues. For one, the brands that are found on Pokecenters do not match the branding of Silph Co. Also, this would assume that the pokeverse is just going to stop being interested in poket-monsters that shoot flames out of their mouths and fly you across a region in a matter of seconds. If anything, Silph Co. is more likely to hand out free pidgeys to everyone on their tenth birthday (I assume is when you take your flying license test) and then turn around and sell HM02 at a huge mark-up. Ultimately, the failure here is pretty weak as Silph Co already has a strong hold on the poke-industrial complex. There is nothing that says that people would stop obsessing over these pokemon if they suddenly had to pay a reasonable price to get them healed. In fact, as a maker of the various types of potions, it would seem that they would be cannibalizing a product of theirs for nothing in return.
A third theory that I actually support is that Pokecenters are actually owned and operated by the same people the own Pokemarts. This runs along a similar train of thought to the prior theory, however, it relies less on a single player controlling the whole pokeverse and more on competitive logic. Pokemarts also rely heavily on Pokemon trainers and need them to battle so that they will purchase Silph Co produced items from the Pokemarts. Having Pokecenters readily available will help encourage trainers to fight more and consume more of their product. But again, this raises the question of why they would offer this service for free. The first reason would be brand recognition. It is clear that the branding for Pokecenters and Pokemarts are identical. They have similar logos and it almost looks like the buildings were erected by the same development teams. A consumer is more likely to have brand loyalty (i.e. buy pokeballs from a Pokecenter) when they are given a service for free.
But even more importantly is what else the Pokecenter provides: free item storage. Bill’s Storage System is pretty sweet and integral to the game(3), but it doesn’t come along until Ash Ketchum has already racked up a Boulder Badge and has made it through Nugget Bridge on Route 24. The Storage system for items has been their all along. This again, encourage consumers to purchase more items by providing them with a free of charge service that saves them the hassle of having to use a bunch of repels to clear up space. This way, a trainer has room in his/her backpack to buy goods, while they also have extra money that would have been wasted on paying for any of the services in the Pokecenter.
I know this sounds a little like the broken window fallacy, but I would assume that Pokemarts have solid margins on their products and that their PC system has very low fixed and variable costs. Once they have enough people using their system, it practically will pay for itself. They do not want to run the risk of another, lower cost healthcare or item storage provider undercutting them when they can give it away for free. Ultimately, Pokemarts and Pokecenters work in a mutually beneficial manner that helps trainers get what they need as they travel all over Kanto to become the very best – the best there ever was.
1. Silph Co. has to be one of the worst names in fictional conglomerate businesses ever. It is a testament to the Pokemon community who, even in the face of really poorly named or designed subjects in the pokeverse, are still able to make something cool out of it, such as naming a community of Pokemon Go fans the Silph Road. That’s pretty neat.
2. This Theory is garbage. But if they have the ability to teleport, maybe they should have the ability to clone as well. I have seen The Prestige and I am confident that is how that works.
3. Why is he giving this away for free? Seems odd as well, but I think it probably adds up to scientific research. You catch the Zapdos, send it to Bill through his PC system, and he gets to figure out all he wants to know (humanely, obviously) about the mythical beast.