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

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Pokemon World - An introduction

I started writing today's post this morning on the bus into NYC amidst the worst traffic jam I have seen this summer. I passed a car fire and was stuck outside of the Lincoln Tunnel for over half an hour (two separate incidents). Nonetheless, I decided to start this week's group of posts off with a tribute to one of the most significant games of my life: Pokemon.
Everyone who knew me as a kid (and some who know me now) know of my childhood obsession with the Pokemon world. I would watch the show every morning before school, battle with my friends during recess, watch some more in the afternoon, and in between all of this find some time to play the actual game. While my original intention was to just discuss the game (the original Red and Blue versions), I quickly realized that Pokemon was more than just a Game Boy game, and to leave out Pokemon in its other forms would be dismissing
During my Pokemon phase, I would frequently hear from people older than me how Pokemon took up too much of my time, and how I should spend more time doing something else, anything else. Up until recently, I would have agreed; for many years I went along with the idea that Pokemon never taught me anything, and that I did waste those two or three years when I could have been doing something more worthwhile (I know I am being vague, but that is only because I am not really sure what I would have done otherwise). Now, however, I feel that I can justify that those hours battling gym leaders and memorizing type strengths/weaknesses taught me some real life skills. Last week, I finished reading the book Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson. He goes on to argue that the public is too quick to dismiss popular culture and the mediums that carry it (video games, television, the internet) as the reasons behind our society's decline. On the contrary, he argues that these forms of media are training our brains in different but just as important ways as do books. I planned on discussing this topic all in one post, but since it is after 10 and I have to be up at 5:30, I have decided to break the topic up into segments and post them periodically. Rest assured, I will not purely focus on Pokemon; I will mix them into my posts covering other topics. Since I deemed this post an introduction, I will post again tomorrow where I will begin to dive into my observations. Until tomorrow, good night!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Song Pick of the Week

In addition to my pop culture postings, I will once a week post a song that I think everyone should hear. This choice is really for last week, so you will get another pick at the end of the week. I first heard "Masterswarm" on my favorite online radio station Grafittiradio.com. Although I know that Andrew Bird has been around for years, I just started listening to his music. This track is from his fifth studio album Noble Beast which came out early last year. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hello everyone,

For those of you who do not know me, I am a rising junior at American University in Washington, DC, majoring in Business, Language, and Culture studies. My interest in popular culture began with my interest in music back in middle school. I soon became an avid follower of Billboard magazine to track how songs performed on various charts. While I was a musician throughout high school (I played the trumpet), my relationship with music was based less on performance and more on how it reflected my life at that particular point in time.
My initial attachment with music laid the foundation for my interest in observing our interaction and understanding of other forms of media. While I do not share the same emotional attachment with music as with video games, movies or music, I do feel there is something worth reflecting on how our society grows and changes with them. A few times a week, I will post on various topics relating to popular culture. Most of the time these posts will be related to a recent book or article I have just read. The topics will be varied - from standardized tests to music to Pokemon - which I hope will make SmartPop more enjoyable for everyone. And although I look forward to posting my observations and opinions, I also look forward to reading what everyone else has to say. Feel free to disagree with me on everything! I already feel that a blog devoted to analyzing Popular Culture will spur some debate. Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing everyone's comments!