Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Science that is a Pokemon Battle

Last week I started a series of posts related to how we can learn useful skills from video games, using Pokemon Red & Blue as my example. Tonight, I continue with a discussion of the preparation, the strategy, and the overall knowledge needed to win a Pokemon battle. While talking about the benefits of video games last week, I also used the book Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson to support my claims that the otherwise tedious leveling up of Pokemon is made bearable through new moves that are learned through the leveling-up process. In addition to the reward system, Johnson explains that video games have become increasingly more complex, and how they offer almost limitless possibilities for the player.
In the Red and Blue versions, there were 150 Pokemon available to use in your team (side note: last time I looked there were 493 Pokemon available). A team can consist of up to 6 Pokemon, and while this offers a great deal of creativity to the player, the overall goal of the game is to win as many battles as possible to become a Pokemon master.
If asked what are the keys to a good team, the common answer heard is type balance. In Red and Blue, a Pokemon can be one or two of 15 types, such as fire, water, grass, or electric. Additionally, each move a Pokemon learns has a type. Each type has an advantage over some attacks and disadvantages over others. For a basic example, fire attacks have an advantage when used on grass type Pokemon. On the flip side, a fire Pokemon is weak against water type attacks. While some of these type advantages/disadvantages seem logical, others are not (such as dragon type Pokemon being weak against ice), requiring the player to memorize these odd type balances. Most players agree that a strong team will have six Pokemon of different types to balance their individual strengths and weaknesses.
In addition to Pokemon and move types, every Pokemon has different stats, which are another factor to consider when putting together a team. Again, in Red and Blue there were five stats - hit points, speed, attack, defense, and special (this stat has since split into special attack and special defense). Each individual Pokemon has different stats, and they almost always come with some sort of trade off, such as high speed but low defense. These stats affect the strength and accuracy of the Pokemon's moves. It's true that a Dugtrio will almost always attack first due to its high speed stat, but its low defense means that any damage taken will do more damage than a Pokemon with a higher defense stat, even if they are of the same type.
With types and stats, creating a strong team can seem overwhelming, as there are many factors to consider with seemingly endless possibilities. However, that's not all; once a player thinks they have a strong team to take into battle, he/she must think of the right strategy to ensure victory. Should the player open with a fast Pokemon to ensure the first strike, or use a slower Pokemon that knows a status changing move to poison the opponent (I forgot to mention that some moves can affect the status of the opponent, such as poisoning them or putting them to sleep). Similar to other strategy games, the player must consider the moves of the opponent as well as his/her own. Sometimes, this requires considering several scenarios several turns ahead.
For those of you who never played Pokemon, you're probably thinking one of two things: he's making it seem more complicated than it really is in order to prove his point, or why would he waste his time (and blog post) writing about a game? If you have played the game before, you're probably thinking yeah, it does get this complicated. Yes, I probably did spend too much of my childhood playing Pokemon. Hoewever, I am not so quick to claim that it was a complete waste of time. Mining through seemingly endless data to arrive at useful conclusions is one of the greatest challenges of my generation. The ability to think strategically plan ahead and weigh different scenarios at once are skills valued in the workplace, and just plain useful when trying to make sense of one's own life. Or once again, I'm just trying to justify how I spent my time from third through fifth grade.

Like I've said before, you're welcome to comment on this post. Agree with me, or refute everything I've just said, it's up to you.

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