Monday, May 5, 2008

Ten Years of Pokémon.
What Have I Learned?

Pokémon. Easily one of the most well-known video game franchises ever, and also one of the most successful. For those people that have been under a rock for the past ten years, Pokémon had its start as a game where the player took on the role of a Pokémon trainer. The goal was to capture these creatures called Pokémon and train them to do battle with other trainers and their Pokémon. I say that that was how the game started because of the fact that it inspired dozens of spin-offs, including anything from photography (Pokémon Snap) to pinball (Pokémon Pinball and its sequel) to dungeon exploration (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon). The derivatives of the original Pokémon games aren’t even limited to video games, as there is also a Pokémon animated TV series and several animated feature-length films, along with a trading card game and any number of toys and accessories.

Despite these many, varied Pokémon items, there are still games that keep to the original format. From the original Red and Blue versions, the games have gone through four generations. Each generation has added new Pokémon and changed the world that the game takes place in. Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl represent the newest games in the series that maintain the exploration, capture, and battle that Pokémon was built upon.

I first played Pokémon almost ten years ago, when Pokémon Blue was released in the U.S. in September of 1998. I’ve been enjoying the games of the Pokémon world ever since. The question now is: was the time I spent enjoying myself pointless entertainment? Or is there some meaning, some lesson I can take from my long years of game play?

As should be obvious, the answers to those questions aren’t simple. Looking back on how I played Pokémon, I’m forced to come to the conclusion that there’s more than one way to play the game.

When I was younger, first playing Pokémon Blue, I wasn’t exactly old enough to worry too much about such questions. I didn’t really worry about how I was playing the game either. I considered it a mark of pride that I could use my Wartortle, a Water-type Pokémon, to defeat the challenges of the third Gym, Lt. Surge’s Electric-type Gym. After all, since I was at a disadvantage, obviously I was good to be able to win with a disadvantage. The fact that my Wartortle was ten levels higher than all of the Gym Leader’s Pokémon didn’t strike me as odd, nor did I think about what that meant for my victory. I was playing the game, and I was enjoying myself. Certainly, there was nothing wrong in what I was doing. And yet, I wasn’t really getting everything I could out of the game.

Fast-forward to the release of Pokémon Diamond. I hadn’t played Pokémon games for almost four years, since I ignored the releases of FireRed, LeafGreen, and Emerald, along with the fact that I had finished and become bored with Sapphire shortly after its release. I picked up the game again, and this time I played very differently. Rather than using my starter Pokémon all of the time, and ignoring type advantages in favor of raw power, I trained every Pokémon on my team. I played using all six of the Pokémon I could have in my party, using my type advantages to overcome the opponents who were now higher level than I was.

The culmination of that was my battle against the Elite Four. (Although, why they don’t just call them the Elite Five is beyond me, since there’s always the Champion after the Elite Four.) That fight taught me how Lt. Surge felt. My Pokémon were constantly lower-level, and for the final two battles, I was facing at least a ten level disadvantage almost constantly. And the first time I fought them, I lost. I didn’t take that defeat too badly though. Actually, I had expected it the whole time. While I took on the Elite Four that first time, I was taking notes, though. They weren’t much more than “use this Pokémon against this enemy” repeated for the entire Elite Four, but that was enough. I was able to limit my losses and conserve my recovery items the second time through, and succeeded in defeating them.

What does that say about the value of the Pokémon games? In the end, Pokémon is a tactical battle game. To win, the player has to be able to either overpower the enemy or exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. Overpowering force isn’t hard, and I managed to enjoy myself using the same Pokémon over and over again. But that isn’t all that I got out of Pokémon in the end. When I came back to the game in high school, I took the second route. I focused on using the weaknesses of each Pokémon to find attacks that would be more effective. I had to plan out my actions and choices of attack to overcome the same overpowering force that I had used years ago.

I had to plan, and I had to think. Strategy and tactics are very important when one plays the game without overpowering force. Since then, I’ve built three different teams, including a Lv. 5 and under team that required a vast amount of planning and effort to create. I faced down a four-Pokémon team controlled by another human being, the issue here being that he had one level 100, two level 90, and one level 76 Pokémon to my six level 73 Pokémon. A seventeen-level disadvantage should not be overcome at all, especially not when there’s a human being directing those attacks, yet I nearly defeated him, and I still can say what I should have done differently to win the battle outright.

In the end, Pokémon has taught me about thinking and planning ahead, about strategy and tactics. What’s the most effective way for me to achieve this goal? How are we going to carry out this order? Answering those questions is fundamental regardless of what the goal is, whether it be the arbitrary target of a video game or the requirements of a job ten years in the future. Being able to make a plan, whether that plan is for a strategic challenge in a video game or a project assigned to a manager in a corporation, can only aid in becoming a better leader.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the animated series or any of the movies. But those are subjects for another time. For my next article, I’ll take what I’ve seen in anything from anime to video games to address a fundamental human question: why do we fight?


nooblade said...

Pokemon battles used to be the only reason why I talked to the other kids at all.

Synycyl Games said...

As a game developer I think I will be watching your blog. You take a very intellectual look from a players perspective. This is a dream come true for developers and can help any good developer become better.

I'd like to see if your interest would peak on our projects at Synycyl Games so check our blog.

Mr. Mud said...

This is a great Idea counter... I always was thinknig if all those years we all spend looknig at the tinted brown screen meant something...

And it did!!

Mrmud from GitP.