I was on third grade when my grandparents left their personal computer at our ancestral home, a place I lived in for the first eleven years of my life. That computer was used to print posters and leaflets for my grandpa’s election campaign. What my grandparents (and my parents, at least at first) didn’t know was that a highly addictive video game was installed on that same PC.
And so, when I was eight years old, I stumbled upon a game that would change my life forever – Pokemon Gold. What I didn’t know then was that it was normally played using the Gameboy (the great-grandfather of the Nintendo Switch) and my cousin installed an emulator on the PC so it could play Pokemon.
I started playing it on Saturday mornings after I shot some hoops on the park in front of our home. And then I started playing on Saturday mornings before doing anything else – a wakeup ritual. My childhood addiction only got worse from there, as I no longer found any distinction between weekdays and weekends. I played the game right after doing homework, up to the time I couldn’t control my addiction anymore that I played it before I got anything done upon arriving home. At first, I learned to be savvy and disguised the minimized tab with Encarta pages – the offline Wikipedia of my day. I managed to hide this guilty pleasure from my mom, or at least that’s what I thought. She immediately caught on and realized what a bad habit I already formed – I plummeted in my class’s honor rankings; my grades fell to the ground.
Mom eventually took away Pokemon playtime, but not for good. Playing Pokemon, whichever new version was available became my dog biscuit. I played Pokemon all throughout my pre-teen years until reaching puberty, when I started learning how to send texts to my classmates.
The Pokemon games are a highly addictive and immersive bunch, whichever version you play. But looking back on those days, I don’t consider them to be full of emptiness and wasted time. While indeed the Pokemon series is clearly designed to make the player want for more every time and is set up to be open-ended, the series also provides the player with valuable lessons that can be applied in real life.
Here are four valuable lessons I learned from playing Pokemon as a child.
Taking things slow provides so much perspective.
It took a while for this lesson to creep up on me. When I played Pokemon in elementary school, I would always make sure I finished the game’s narrative arc and beat the bad guys as fast as I possibly could. I considered speed to be the best indicator of the player’s talent. But it was after playing the game more than a hundred times that I found out that playing it slow could provide me with so much more perspective.
And I kid you not – in high school I had already played Pokemon more than a hundred times over. And the reason for this was that my cartridge was not functioning properly anymore and it couldn’t save my progress when I turned off the game (which would be a nightmare in any RPG today). Back then, game cartridges had a built-in battery responsible for saving changes, and when this battery ran dry, you’d start over every time your Gameboy ran out of battery (which happened far too often back in the day).
This predicament was a blessing in disguise as I was able to know the game from so many different angles, and play it in so many different ways. It was extremely frustrating at first, but eventually I realized that if I had a chance to be able to save my progress again, I would play the game as slow as I could to gain as much perspective as I could. And when I finally bought a new cartridge which meant I could save my game, I was no longer in a hurry to get to the finish line.
That’s the first of four lessons I got from playing Pokemon – being first isn’t necessarily everything. Knowing more, absorbing more, enjoying moments as they come – these are very important things to do in life.
Doing the repetitive, boring stuff pays off very well in the end.
In every RPG, there is an almost endless challenge of leveling up, up until you reach the max. Normally, you level up your character (or Pokemon) but repeatedly defeating foes, gaining EXP (experience). Gaining EXP can be a very tiresome and repetitive ordeal, and later versions of Pokemon actually tried to address this by making the process more fun and less banal.
In Pokemon however, especially in the 3rd generation games – Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald – there’s a way to level up without having to fight anybody, and that was through depositing your Pokemon with the Pokemon Day Care where your Pokemon will gain EXP with every step that your main character takes in the game.
Like most Pokemon addicts, I took advantage of this condition, and I would repeat a path (a lap) where my main character would take a hundred consecutive steps in one direction and then in another, all the while leveling my Pokemon up. If there was a more boring way to level up your Pokemon, this was it. The game designers at Game Freak were finding ways to make leveling up more fun and exciting, and there I was making use of a hack that was so repetitive and exhausting (but paid off).
This was a valuable lesson for me that sometimes, doing the repetitive boring stuff will pay off bigtime in the end. And this is something that athletes are accustomed to doing – their practice routines contain drills that aren’t that fun at all, but when you see them play in their sport, you realize what all those drills were for.
Understanding your foe’s weaknesses can be your greatest strength.
The great thing about the Pokemon games is that they’re designed in such a way where on type of playable character (or Pokemon) doesn’t have a lopsided advantage over the other types. There is the whole anti-hierarchy of Pokemon types, to say it simply – water beats fire, fire beats grass, grass beats earth (ground), ground beats fire, and so on.
There were also a host of more unfamiliar types, like Ghost type or Psychic, Dragon, then in future versions, Steel and Fairy. The simpler types were pretty straightforward and you’d know at a glance that water beats fire, but how about for the other types?
Right then and there, as you start playing Pokemon, you learn just how valuable knowing your foe’s weaknesses are. And you realize from an early age that it’s not just about beefing yourself up or making yourself stronger – but capitalizing on your adversary’s weak areas or pressure points.
There’s more than one way to do something – exploring different solutions will help you grow.
The last but not the least valuable lesson – just try to do things differently!
Pokemon is not just a game you play once, and you say, ‘Well, that was a really good game. On to the next game!’ It is one of those games where you keep coming back for it and ask yourself, ‘What if I started with this?’ or ‘What if I did it this way?’
The beauty in a very well-designed system and an open-ended environment is that you never get tired of it. Pokemon is one of those games that has achieved legendary status, because you can play it in as many ways as you can.
Knowing that you can do something, or find a solution to a problem in so many different ways, plus knowing that there isn’t only one right outcome or answer, bodes well in developing a creative mind. I don’t know if I belong among the upper echelon of creative thinkers, but I am sure that playing Pokemon opened up creative problem solving skills way before my teachers taught the concept to me and my classmates.