After listening to Jane McGonigal’s Ted talk I couldn’t help but reminisce back to grade school. She argues that the ideal amount of gameplay per week is 21 billion hours. This is obviously an enormous amount of time to invest in gaming. It got me thinking about the time I used to spend playing Pokemon Blue Version in 4th grade. A little over a decade has passed since I first became addicted to Pokemon on my gameboy, and I haven’t devoted the same amount of time to any other game since then.
Jane’s explanation as to why we tend to prefer gaming to real life seems extraordinarily accurate when I think back on the merits of Pokemon. As she suggests of games in general, Pokemon never deals its players unachievable tasks. As you work your way through the storyline, you face trainers with increasingly powerful Pokemon, which serves to keep all fights competitive. By the time you reach the final bosses (the Elite Four) your Pokemon will have progressed to a point where you could conceivably win, or will at least come close to victory. Pokemon also provides its players with constant feedback. In her talk, McGonigal acknowledges the significance of leveling up in World of Warcraft. It provides a means of rewarding gamers for their progress (or reassuring them that progress is being made). Pokemon was exceptional in this sense. Each individual Pokemon could be leveled all the way up to 100 (invincible status). Likewise, many Pokemon would evolve once they reached a certain level, providing strong incentive to fight with them. Lastly, there was a certain epicness to the Pokemon story. You begin as a child in a small town, but over the course of the game you become the single most powerful person in the Pokemon world.
However, when thinking back on the general experience of playing Pokemon, I do not believe that it developed my skills in a way that could (or would) make a better world. Firstly, almost every achievement in Pokemon is within an arms reach. If you lose a battle to a trainer, it’s very likely that spending thirty minutes killing innocent wild Pokemon by mindlessly pressing “A” again and again and again will ensure your victory when you return to face him or her once again. This sort of leveling up isn’t necessarily productive, as it requires very little strategy. McGonigal argues that games make people better at exercising urgent optimism, being blissfully productive, weaving social fabrics and creating epic meanings. In analyzing her argument through a Pokemon BV lense, I have to disagree. The game creates the epic meanings for us. It allows us to be blissfully productive and urgently optimistic because we know that success is inevitably around the corner. Pokemon wasn’t really collaborative, so I can’t really touch on the social aspects, but expecting gamers to bring these traits to the real world is unrealistic. They’re simply manufactured by the game designers to be experienced solely within the game.