Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Pokemon: Of Obsession and Decisions
The Pokemon games have been a guilty obsession of mine since received Pokemon Blue Version as a Christmas present when I was eight years old. . I had never heard of it before, but I was hooked immediately by the game and its promises to let me have a team of monsters that I would keep in my ever so large, baggy 90's pant pockets. The initial choice between the three starter Pokemon; Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander, was one of agony. Bulbasaur looks like a dinosaur with a flower on its back and what kid never dreamed of having their very own dinosaur to call their own? Squirtle was the most adorable turtle creature I had ever seen. Though when I laid eyes one Charmader, a beautiful little lizard, I knew that this creature was my favorite but I did not know if I should choose it. Every single playable character had its strengths and weaknesses depending on the type of Pokemon they happened to be. Respectively they are grass, water, and fire type. Eventually I chose the water Pokemon Squirtle because I had reasoned it out in my 8 year old mind that water puts out fire and water can freeze, thus killing grass type even though it would still be weak to grass moves itself. I was still new to the game and did not know that there were ice type Pokemon. However this type of choice that the player has to make at the beginning of every Pokemon game is exactly what Juul discusses Sid Meier's three criteria for interesting choices, "1. No single option should be the best. 2 The options should be equally good. 3. The player must be able to make an informed choice" (92). Even though as a child I sought out what I thought was the best choice in starter Pokemon, in reality all the choices were equally good, having weaknesses and strengths.
While there are more than three types of Pokemon, by starting off with just three the games make a clear and simple understanding of the rules of the strengths and weaknesses the various types have against each other and the rules are easily built upon to incoorporate the more complex system that eventually uses 17 different types of Pokemon. This is similar to the model of triangularity and intransitivity Juul uses when discussing the pros and cons of choosing between archers and warriors (Juul 107). The diversity is what keeps the game interesting and allows for the trading system between the games to work. Because no Pokemon is the best Pokemon it means that different starting choices are going to be made by different players, ensuring the world of Pokemon is dominated by Charmanders. As a player progresses through the story the player may capture new Pokemon of different types and build a team of up to six different Pokemon. These Pokemon may be traded out for different Pokemon that the trainer owns, allowing the trained to continuously change strategies. Another element that add a level of challenge to the game is how a Pokemon is trained. By leveling up a Pokemon, their statistics will increase, giving boosts in speed, attack, health, defense, special defense, and special attack. Pokemon that have been raised to a leveled up by a trainer are generally more powerful than their counterpart of the same level that is encountered in the wild. However, catching wild Pokemon is the main means of aquiring new Pokemon, thus the game encourages the player to catch these Pokemon. By training these caught wild Pokemon they too will increase in level and become on par with the trainers already trained Pokemon.
Pokemon games in general are progressive games with emergent aspects. There is a set storyline the player must follow, having to win Pokemon battles with gym leaders in order to progress the storyline and unlock new areas to explore and thus capture new Pokemon. The emergent quality comes into play with the players ability to determine the Pokemon used to progress the story and how the player chooses to train Pokemon. Each Pokemon can learn up to 4 battle moves at any given time. Just like the Pokemon have different types, there are different move types. Along with being either one of the 17 different Pokemon types, move types add another level of complexity by being either physical or special. Special moves are moves that are not physical and are usually mental, and while they may inflict damage they may also be used for giving temporary increases or decreases to Pokemon statistics. This variance allows for more diverse strategies and therefore that can make gameplay easier or more difficult. By incorporating this emergent aspect of gaming it gives more depth to the overall progressive goals of the game: to collect all the gym badges, beat the elite four, and to "catch 'em all."