Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Pickachu Taught Me to Pay Attention

We have all heard that kids spend too much time playing video games (sometimes playing for several hours on end), when they could be spending their time playing sports outside or reading. Now, I am not denying that these are not beneficial and healthy activities for kids to engage in. What I am saying, however, is that our society is too quick to point out the negative in video games in favor of what are traditionally viewed as beneficial activities (for those who are not athletically skilled, playing sports, whether recreational or not, can be a painful experience). If one looks closer at what the gamer is actually doing, one would see that every bit of discipline is required to advance.
Take for example, the Red and Blue versions of the game boy game Pokemon. While the objective during the majority of the game is to is to defeat the eight gym leaders through battle, when talking into account the total hours played, these battles are few and far between. A vast majority of my time was spent playing was put toward leveling up my Pokemon in order to defeat the gym leaders. Leveling up Pokemon required them to gain experience points through battle, and although a good amount of experience is gained through battling gym leaders and other trainers, most of the experience gained is done through battling wild Pokemon. Most Pokemon gamers would agree that wild Pokemon posed no threat to their own Pokemon, resulting in a tedious task needed to be done in order to further advance in the game. To muddle through this training required, in my opinion, a great deal of discipline. For those who remember the need to level up an Abra who only knew teleport, you know exactly what I am talking about. Therefore, why did I spend so much time playing Pokemon?
Going back to Steven Johnson, the author of Everything Bad is Good For You, he explains that the human brain is constantly seeking out rewards, and that the real world lacks the desired amount to satisfy its needs. Video games, on the other hand, constantly reward the gamers for their efforts. Johnson explains that,

"Game rewards are fractal; each scale contains its own reward network, whether you're just learning to use the controller, or simply trying to solve a puzzle to raise some extra cash, or attempting to complete the game's ultimate mission"

While battling the next gym leader may be far off, Pokemon was designed to reward me in the meantime. This was done through my Pokemon learning new moves as they leveled up. This reward worked on two levels. First, acquiring a new move immediately rewarded my efforts for leveling up my team. Yet at the same time, the newly learned ability was always more powerful or useful than the previous (if used in the right way), and could therefore be put toward accomplishing my higher objective of defeating the next gym leader.
While there is more to discuss, I am aware that this is a single blog post and will therefore stop here for today. I am also aware that I only referenced one book. Rest assured, I am currently reading a book that takes the exact opposite view of Johnson on the benefits and consequences of pop culture and media, and hope to include some of its arguments into my posts. Until then, however, I can safely convince myself that Pikachu taught me discipline.

Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good For You. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006


  1. I know! After reading this book I will never look at video games the same way again.