Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Rewards of Honest Effort

In today’s world, Internet connectivity for video games has progressed past a novelty into a requirement. Almost all decent multiplayer games have a system in place to connect with other human players anywhere in the world these days. But that isn’t always enough. In most cases, these systems will have limitations, especially Nintendo’s systems. Without having other ways of communication, without knowing a person in some other manner, it is usually impossible to connect with that person over a Nintendo game on the Internet.

Thus, the need for other means of game play. There are programs that can be downloaded that replicate certain functions of games and allow these competitions to be held online with less restriction. Not just video games, either; there are systems that emulate things like trading card games as well, to allow their play over the Internet.

I’ve tried some of these emulators. As a Pokémon trainer, when I learned about the world of competitive battling for that game, I wanted to try my hand at it. So I got a simulator called Shoddy Battle (their website is here, for the curious) which has as its stated goal “to create and maintain… a computer program that offers an online RPG battle experience similar to one found in the Pokemon games.”

And honestly enough? I don’t really like using it all that much. Now, before I continue, I want to make it abundantly clear that this dislike has nothing to do with the program itself or with any of the people involved. The program works beautifully; the people I’ve battled have (usually) been fine people and a fine challenge for my skills. No, after some personal examination, I’ve come to realize that my dislike has to do with the idea of using a simulator in the first place.

When it comes to Pokémon battle, there are two major parts to the planning. In the real world, strategy is generally long-term planning for a wider situation, while tactics are more immediate methods in a single battle. Pokémon is divided much the same, with the art of team building alongside the actual use of that team in battle. Both are highly complicated affairs for which experience is a major asset.

And when actually playing the game, both require a lot of effort and skill to properly manage. As I write this, I’m laying initial plans for a new competitive team. Even after I finally decide on what Pokémon I’m actually going to use, which is a challenge all to itself, I’ll still have to get those Pokémon with the right natures (natures affect their statistics) and train them properly to optimize those statistics for each Pokémon’s given role. This is a process that will likely take up several hours of game play, spread over days or even weeks, in its completion.

Once all of that is done, I’ll start battling with them and figure out what works and what doesn’t, along with having to deal with the fallout from any mistakes that I make. Each battle will be a challenge all its own, as I’ll have to figure out how to deal with anything that comes my way. And more often than not, I’ll probably fail and end up losing, as competition between human players is something for which experience is important… and I don’t have much of that yet.

But after all of that effort, I get its due reward. I do have a team designed for competitive battling already, after all. And yes, it did take a lot of effort to set up on my game card. It isn’t the greatest team in the world, but it is mine. After all of that effort, there is nothing I enjoy more in the Pokémon games than bringing it out (usually on Pokémon Battle Revolution for the Wii, since I can battle random people over the Internet with that) and trying my level best to take down the opposing team.

I have also constructed a competitive team on Shoddy Battle for use on that program. And after battling with it several times, I started to notice that I didn’t really enjoy those battles as much as the ones I did with the actual game. It eventually got to the point where I all but ceased using the simulator entirely; I haven’t really logged on to that for a while. And I think it has to do with the effort involved in using the simulator.

There’s a reason why I emphasized that the team I built on my Pokémon Diamond game card was mine. After I spent the amount of time that I did, and invested the effort that I did in creating it, I feel like that team has become more than just a few Pokémon that I trained. There’s more than just that time and effort in them now. I feel like I’ve invested a part of myself in that team.

And when I battle with that team that I built, I feel like I’m displaying that; I feel like I’m putting my effort forward for the world to see. The people that I have challenged probably aren’t too impressed with my effort, but that was never the point. I enjoy battling with my Pokémon; I enjoy challenging myself in attempting to lead them to victory.

The problem is… I don’t get that feeling from dueling on the simulator. I haven’t put much effort into creating that team. I still had to decide what Pokémon to use and what roles they would play, yes, but once those decisions were made the rest was nothing more than clicking buttons to do what took me hours in the actual game. The feeling that that team is a result of my effort just isn’t there.

I have no doubt that there are people who would dismiss much of that as irrelevant; this isn’t the Pokémon anime show, in which the relationship between a trainer and his or her Pokémon is of paramount importance. But until computers can simulate the kind of interaction between trainer and Pokémon that is seen on the show­­, I think that what I feel playing with the team that I built is as close as I can possibly come to that same camaraderie.

And maybe it is irrelevant. It certainly doesn’t affect game statistics; in fact, the Pokémon team I constructed on the simulator is superior in that respect, because I have more power to alter certain aspects of the Pokémon on that than I do in the game. But there are still rewards for that effort that I put in. There is a sense of joy that I haven’t found elsewhere, in taking the results of my work and pitting it against the work of other trainers.

Finally, I turned on Pokémon Battle Revolution and played a few battles against people that I’ll likely never see again just a few days ago. It was as enjoyable as it always is, despite the loss that I took. In contrast, I haven’t activated Shoddy Battle for several months now. That, more than anything else in my opinion, shows what my rewards are for the effort I put in. Maybe it’s only me, but I take pride in that effort, and that gives both the results and the process of that effort a joy that I haven’t found without it.

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