How Moves Work

By cookie. Art by Bummer.
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Welcome to another edition of How Moves Work, where I attempt to make sense of the Pokémon universe by bending as few laws of nature as possible.


The user floods various parts of its nervous system (particularly its sensory receptors) with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The net result is an increased resistance to pain resulting in a reduction of psychological trauma, the main principle behind electrical, energy-based, and telekinetic attacks. Note: this does not affect resistance to physical attacks, which inflict corporeal damage that physically impede the victim. Unfortunately, the release mechanism isn't perfect and various parts of the brain receive a dose of the neurotransmitter, causing the temporary memory loss that is so strongly associated with this move.

The GABA flood mechanism also explains why this move is only learned at higher levels: GABA is excitatory in children, adopting an inhibitory role later on in adulthood. It is hypothesized that a Pokémon's nervous system evolves in a similar manner.

Iron Head/Iron Tail/Steel Wing

At first glance, one might assume that these are just Headbutt/Slam/Wing Attack used by Steel Pokémon. However, not only do non-Steel-types learn these but several Steel-types learn their non-ferrous equivalents, which suggests that the "Steel" part of the move isn't intrinsic to the user.

In fact, most Steel-type Pokémon can move quite freely despite seemingly being encased in metal. Their outer skin is made of microscopic metal plates that are loosely connected, similar to chain mail. Importantly, the metal is a memory alloy, which resets its shape when raised to a temperature dependent on the alloy's constituent metals, which varies from species to species. When Steelix uses Iron Head, it flushes blood to the surface of its skull to warm up the skin there, causing the plates to reset to a shape that locks them all together in a rigid grid. The metallic coating is much tougher than rock or flesh, significantly improving the move's effectiveness.

Hyper Beam

This powerful attack comes at the heavy price of leaving the user immobile for the next turn, which sets it aside from the superficially similar SolarBeam. Indeed, the delivery system is almost identical: a network of optical fibers that funnel light to a single spot on the Pokémon's body, but the source of energy is where they differ.

In the first three generations, Hyper Beam relied on muscles (special organs from Generation 4 onwards) metabolizing pretty much all the glucose in the Pokémon's blood, but using the energy to generate light through bioluminescent pathways. After the attack, the user is left to recover from its hypoglycemic state. Most Pokémon don't even have the respiratory function to burn all the glucose aerobically, resulting in a massive lactic acid build-up as well. After using Hyper Beam, the user is literally "out of breath." In previous generations, Hyper Beam was a physical move despite beams typically considered special: the use of muscles to generate energy explained why it was more potent coming from users with high Attack stats.

This massive metabolic ramp-up is also the power source of Hyper Beam's elemental analogs (using the aforementioned specialized organs instead of muscles), though their energy delivery systems are quite different.

Spacial Rend

The universe is currently expanding: one of the three scenarios proposed for its fate is that it will continue to expand at an accelerating rate. Initially, galactic clusters will be torn apart, then the stars in galaxies will disperse, followed by solar systems destabilizing and continuing on down to smaller and smaller scales until the subatomic particles making up everything are ripped apart.

Palkia and Darkrai create a localized field that forces spacetime to expand rapidly for a short amount of time, which is strong enough to overcome molecular bonds and lasts long enough to severely wound the target. The high critical hit rate is a result of the move's ability to reach the inner parts of target irrespective of armor, composition, or physical size. The temporary nature of the attack means that the effects are also temporary; the endgame scenario described previously works because the expansion "force" is a continuous one, preventing particles from coalescing after they've been ripped apart.

Ice Beam

Beams are cool, Ice Beams doubly so. It is a jet of slush methane at 99K: the target is effectively refrigerated as the methane boils off—in precisely the same manner that a fridge or freezer keeps things cold. Keeping this jet from boiling en route to its target is a sheath of insulating methane gas that forms around it as soon as the liquid comes in contact with the air. This is the same principle that keeps a thermos flask of liquid nitrogen from quickly boiling off when left at room temperature.

Any Pokémon that knows Ice Beam needs to be able to produce and compress methane. Ice Pokémon naturally do this in order to keep their bodies at sub-zero temperatures; their constant emission of flammable methane gives rise to their Fire weakness. Halocarbon refrigerants would work just as well and confer no Fire weakness, but unfortunately there are no biological mechanisms known that can produce these gases. Methane, on the other hand, is easily generated by methanogenic bacteria that live in symbiosis with Ice Pokémon.

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