One fateful day many years ago, someone handed me a GameBoy Advance and a copy of Pokémon Sapphire, and my life was never the same.
I suppose you could take that in the literal sense – i.e. I became a huge geek after that, and my chances of ever being able to pretend I was a normal human being were completely shot – but I think there’s something more there too, something less tangible and obvious than discovering a new hobby.
The things that are a part of our childhoods often have a bigger impact on us than we realize, but we tend to brush these things off as being “not mature enough” to have any real significance in our lives. We look back at the hobbies we had and the games we played as children and think, “Yeah, that was fun, but it doesn’t really mean anything now.”
But that’s where we’re wrong, readers.
The Pokémon series of video games presents a fairly simplistic concept: capture and train adorable (or sometimes frightening) cartoon monsters, and then battle them against one another in an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors. It’s easy enough that even I, an eight-year-old who hadn’t played anything more complicated than Pac-Man at that point, could learn it without much trouble.
Because of this, Pokémon has generally been considered as being “just for kids” – it’s a silly game that they’ll grow out of eventually. However, despite its simple mechanics (which are really more complex than they seem) and more juvenile audience, I do think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Pokémon that transcend that little LCD screen.
(I’ll probably be using some Pokémon-related jargon here and there, so if you want a quick guide to being a Pokémon Master, click here).
Here’s a basic outline of how Pokémon Battles work: two Pokémon attack each other until one Pokémon’s health points (HP) reaches zero. When that happens, the Pokémon faints, and its opponent is victorious.
Because battling relies on HP, it’s easy to see why preparation is important. Visiting a Pokémon Center will restore your Pokémon back to full health, but that isn’t always available, especially when you’re in the middle of a battle. In those cases, the best trainers have healing items at their disposal, like potions to restore HP, revives to bring Pokémon back from fainting, and other items that can heal status conditions like poison or paralysis. No Trainer wants to battle at a disadvantage, and so it’s always a good idea to take stock of your team and prepare for the next fight.
Though it’s unlikely that we’ll be literally fighting anyone in our day-to-day lives, we still need to prepare ourselves for the challenges that come our way. We need “healing items” – not necessarily in the literal sense, but more figuratively. Think of the things that help you recover mentally, like your favorite song, a TV show you like, or a hobby that brings you joy. After a challenging time, we can turn back to these things and “heal” so that we’re prepared to take on the next curveball that life throws our way.
Reaching Your Goals Takes Perseverance and Dedication
At the beginning of every Pokémon game, you’re given a challenge: become the Champion of the Pokémon League. In order to do this, you’ll have to travel the region, fight and defeat all eight Gym Leaders (or the four Kahunas if you’re in Alola), and then take on the Pokémon League. As you can imagine, this is a rather time-consuming endeavor, and it takes hard work to keep training your Pokémon.
Or, you can do what I did in my younger days: borrow Pokémon from your friends. Many of my other childhood friends had strong Pokémon, which they lent to me to make my journey easier. However, this shortcut didn’t mean things were smooth sailing. Stronger Pokémon don’t like to listen to Trainers who aren’t skilled (which is based on the number of gym leaders you’ve defeated), and when it’s all over and you have to return the Pokémon, you’re still left with a weak team.
When it comes down to it, doing things the right way pays off more in the end. Sure, it’ll take longer to reach your goals, and you might have to fight that Gym Leader over and over, but dedicating the time to training and persevering is better than taking the shortcut. And that is how most things in life work out – taking the easy way out in school, work, or just general life stuff has consequences, but when we push through the hard tasks, it’s much more rewarding.
You Can’t Do Everything Yourself
While Pokémon Trainers can capture as many Pokémon as their heart desires (or their PC can store), they’re limited to only have six with them at a time. These six Pokémon often form the Trainer’s core team, and they’re the ones that generally get used the most in battle.
There’s another important feature in Pokémon that affects the games in a big way: type matchups. Each Pokémon can have up to two “types,” and each move that a Pokémon can use has its own individual type as well. In battle, these types match up in different ways: for example, a water-type move is super effective against a fire-type Pokémon, but not very effective against a grass-type Pokémon. Think of it like rock, paper, scissors, but with eighteen options instead of three.
Because of type matchups, each Pokémon has its own strengths and weaknesses. If I have a Kingdra (Water/Dragon-type) on my team, I’ll use it against fire, rock, or ground-type Pokémon, since that’s when it’s strongest. However, if my opponent is a Pokémon like Pikachu, which is an electric-type, my Kingdra’s attacks won’t be very strong, and I’m better off using my Gallade, which knows a ground-type move that’s super effective against Pikachu.
All that to say just that one Pokémon usually can’t handle it all on their own. Some Trainers do try to just train one Pokémon to be the strongest, but that Pokémon inevitably falls in battle. On the other hand, its better to train an entire team together, each with their own strengths and weaknesses to balance each other out. Having a strong team – not just a strong individual – is what makes Pokémon Masters strong.
In “real life,” the same rule applies. Even for those of us who are highly individualistic (*cough* me *cough*), it’s important for us to realize that we can’t do it all on our own. In order to really succeed, we need people with strengths to balance our weaknesses. When we work as teams, we can be the very best like no one ever was.
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One of these days I’m going to write an essay about life lessons learned from Hogan’s Heroes…