It's a Palworld, we're just living in it. Pocketpair's AK-equipped Poké-like has dominated both the charts and the discourse since it came out last Friday, and the debates and discoveries about it are coming out faster than I can keep track of.
But the latest development is both debate and discovery, and I can't decide if that makes it easier to cover or harder. Here's what's happening: Enterprising and morally pliable Palworld players have stumbled upon the fact (via IGN) that you can use the game's Palspheres (they're Pokéballs, let's not beat around the bush) not only to capture the game's animal inhabitants, but to kidnap human NPCs too.
You can see Coney, a streamer, figure this out in real time in the tweet above—complete with a chirpy tooltip from the game that "On Palpargos Island, capturing humans in Palspheres is considered inhumane," as if it were a matter of personal opinion—and it's been verified by us here at PCG too. But things somehow manage to get even darker.
Best Pals: What to catch early
Palworld incubator: How to hatch eggs
Pal fluids: Umm, eww?
Palworld leather: where to farm it
Palworld mounts: How to unlock them
Ancient Civilization parts: Improve your crafting
Paldium Fragments: Get farming fast
As you can see in this Palworld subreddit post by user Ashl3y95, captured humans appear to obey all the same mechanics that the game's captured creatures. That means players can put them to work in their base or summon them to fight on their behalf, although they don't actually seem to be much use for either compared to the game's creatures. You can also, ah, sell them on the black market. It's a bit much!
So much, in fact, that the discovery of slavery in Palworld has already been swept up into the broader hurricane of debate currently surrounding the game. More than a few people are discomfited by the fact that the game lets you participate in actual human trafficking without anything more than a vaguely admonishing tooltip, and that's before you get into the other controversies around the game's depictions of animal cruelty and allegations of copying models.
It's an understandable reaction to depictions of literal slavery, although plenty of other people have pointed out that everything from Rimworld to Europa Universalis 4 has some kind of slavery mechanic without spinning up a comparable level of controversy.
Personally, I wouldn't say I'm particularly put off by Palworld's implementation of a slavery mechanic so much as I'm entirely apathetic about it. In his write-up of the game, Lincoln Carpenter said that Palworld's conspicuous edginess was like "having to hang out for hours with somebody who's made Bugs Bunny smoking weed their whole deal." Adding slavery into the mix is like, I don't know, giving Bugs Bunny a gun too. I'm no more or less scandalised than I was before, I'm just even keener to go hang out with someone else.