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Lessons Learned from Pokémon®

Any boy who knew what was good for him back in our elementary school days
played the hit video game Pokémon. If he wanted to up the coolness factor, he probably
also watched the television series and collected the trading cards, but these were of
secondary importance compared to the Gameboy game. I was a little late to jump onto the
Pokémon bandwagon; I had been too caught up in beating The Legend of Zelda: A Link
to the Past to notice the change in the subtle currents of fad. Beyond a certain point,
though, even I could not remain oblivious to the growing monster that was Pokémon.
Once I was finished with Zelda and the ravished Gamepak contained no more pleasure to
be had, I came to the startling realization that all my friends had at least a six months’
head start on me at building their Pokémon armies. My game was outdated; I had to step
quick just to keep in the clash. I was faced with the first of a series of fateful choices: red
or blue?
Allow me to take a moment to enlighten those who are unfamiliar with the
Pokémon franchise. The Pokémon were fantastical creatures each endowed with unique
and extraordinary elemental powers but able to communicate only by repetitively
bleating their own names. The ostensible object of the video game was to obtain a
specimen of each of the 150 varieties of Pokémon (although the vicious jungle soon
taught me the true rules of engagement). The game originally existed in two versions, a
red and a blue, which were identical except for the creatures you would encounter in
them. The only way to collect all 150 Pokémon was to trade with someone who had the
other version of the game. Thus, Nintendo ingeniously forced people either to trade
Pokémon with their friends, thereby creating a social community centered around the
game that would increase its popularity, or to buy both versions of the game.
Now, the red version was by far the more prevalent and popular of the two. For
the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why everyone wanted red, since the two games were
basically the same. Maybe it was because the sticker on the red game cartridge featured a
fierce, fire-spitting dragon beast, as opposed to the blue version’s significantly less
intimidating, oversized turtle. Anyway, the fact remained that more people had red. A
small voice in my head, probably the same voice that confined my shopping almost
exclusively to American Eagle, told me to buy red, but in my naïveté I chose not to listen
to my gut instinct. For some inexplicable reason, I had always nursed a soft spot in my
heart for the underdog in any battle, and I felt bad for the little blue sucker, even if it was
just a plastic inanimate game cartridge. I thought, How would you feel if you were the
blue version of Pokémon, sitting forlornly on a shelf at Target while reds streamed over
the checkout counter? This misdirected sense of compassion was probably combined with
a juvenile desire to differentiate myself. (It didn’t occur to me that a better way to do this
would have been simply not to buy the game). This foolishness, this budding
individualism, was the same feeling that had compelled me the year before to buy a cat
Giga Pet instead of a dog one. (Another stupid choice, but that’s a different story.) So in
the end, I picked a blue version off the shelf and sentenced myself to several years’ worth
of needless pain.
It didn’t take me long to figure out why everyone had the red version, because my
blue Pokémon got their asses beaten black and blue. Every time I fought one of my
friends with the red version, they had cooler Pokémon with deadlier attack moves than
mine. And it couldn’t be that they had simply trained their Pokémon better; I had made
sure of that by spending countless hours in my room, developing my ultimate Pokémon
battalion. Whatever I did, though, my troops just weren’t good enough to beat the
creatures from the red game. It was like Godzilla fighting Barney. While the Nintendo
corporation innocently pledged that its two games had been created equal, I suspected
some sneaky Japanese shenanigans. I could imagine the programmers of the game having
a good, hearty laugh at my expense in their paltry little cubicles. The subtitles to their
conversation went something like this: “Psst! Teruki!” “What?” “Right before the game
went into production, I tweaked the power levels of the Pokémon so that all the ones in
the blue version suck!” “Teeheehee! Good one, Fukui!”
My choice of game, however, was not the only reason for my miserable Pokémon
failures. It also had to do with my choice of a beginning Pokémon. The Pokémon
Gameboy games started out by asking you to name your character and then to pick a
single Pokémon to begin with. This Pokémon would grow up with you as your loyal
companion and would likely be your go-to creature in battles. You were given a choice
among three starting Pokémon: Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle. Every Pokémon
creature had an elemental type; these three creatures, respectively, were of the fire, plant,
and water varieties. They would start out as cute, googly-eyed babies, but eventually
they’d evolve into powerful beasts. Squirtle’s final form was Blastoise, Bulbasaur’s was
Venusaur, and Charmander would end up as Charizard. Well, when it came time for me to
make my choice, the plant element seemed pretty weak to me, since all the plants I had
ever cared for died when I left them alone for more than two seconds. Plus, plants could
easily be destroyed by either fire or water. But water could obviously put out fire (or so I
thought.) Besides, nobody ever chose Squirtle, so I thought I would give him the
representation he deserved in the pantheon of Pokémon. I let my weakness get the better
of me again—I chose Squirtle the turtle. I thought it would make me an individual. Well,
it did make me an individual—an individual who lost Pokémon battles.
In addition to playing the video game, I started a collection of Pokémon trading
cards around that same time. Without either an allowance or the keen business sense of
my peers, my collection was very modest. I lacked the valuable assets to make any
profitable trades. But I did glean a good deal about the card game from my associates,
enough at least to know that the strongest, rarest, most coveted card in the game was the
foil Charizard. This happened to be the very animal displayed prominently on the front of
the red version’s game cartridge. And this also meant, by implication, that a Charizard in
the Gameboy game was superior to its watery counterpart Blastoise, displayed on the
front of the blue game. This came as a shock to me. If I had known better at the time, I
surely would have picked Charmander at the outset and would have avoided many a
crushing defeat. But I had always been under the impression that water could put out fire.
So why, when the aforementioned lords of video game programming had first conceived
of this game, why did they place fire over water? Just for shits and giggles? Or maybe
they’d just learned how to play rock, paper, scissors, and they thought that irrational
outcomes were part of American culture. (Paper beats rock? What?) The mystery of the
Charizard and Blastoise plagued me for years, but now, with the benefit of years of
worldy experience, I believe that I am finally beginning to come to grips with it.
Let’s take a look at the two creatures head-to-head. In the far corner, we have an
obese, lumbering tortoise with what looks like two SuperSoakers mounted on its back…
Blastoise! (A few half-hearted claps from the audience.) And in the near corner, we have
the lean, ferocious, flying, fire-breathing dragon, with his razor-sharp teeth and his
wicked claws. Everybody, give it up for…Charizard! (The crowd explodes.) Just going
by looks, it’s easy to see why the people love Charizard. Charizard is hot. Charizard is
sexy. Charizard is sleek, powerful, and utterly destructive. He is the Hummer of
Pokémon; Blastoise is just a Chevy Astrovan. Who cares if the van can seat more people,
or even if it has better mileage? One of the important lessons I learned from Pokémon
was that appearances are everything.
Logically, one would think that the Blastoise’s water cannons would be able to put
out the Charizard’s fiery breath, giving it the advantage in the battle. The key to
unraveling the paradox of the game, though, is the knowledge that logic is simply an
imaginary concept that was fabricated by philosophers and has no application in the real
world. When I realized this, it was too late for me, but my purpose in writing this is to
edify you, the reader, while you still have time. If you want to get anywhere, logic is not
going to get you there. Have you ever gotten a date by logic? Have you ever gotten a
raise for using logic? Have you ever even seen a politician get elected based on the logic
of his arguments? Of course not. In this society, the appropriate and prudent course of
conduct is to fly by the seat of one’s pants, directed by one’s urges and whims and
trusting only in one’s gut instincts. This is the policy our civilization has long sworn by,
and you can only stand to benefit by taking heed of it. So that you might not take this for
empty sophistry, I will have take the liberty of providing some salient examples. Consider
Luke Skywalker, one of the most admirable heroes of late antiquity. Where computer
targeting systems had failed, he destroyed the impregnable Death Star by turning off his
computer and trusting his feelings. Consider every virtuous man who has earned his
immortal rank in our venerable American mythology: Daniel Boone, Indiana Jones, the
Terminator, Walker: Texas Ranger, et al. What was the one common feature they
possessed that allowed them to achieve great deeds? They shot first and asked questions
later. Thinking takes too much time; that’s why scientists invented Sparknotes. In fact, if
one thinks too much one is most likely to either become homeless or die. An intellectual
never leaves a lasting contribution to society, which is the reason why nobody remembers
or cares about names such as René Descartes or Ralph Waldo Emerson. But society
remembers the valor men like 50 Cent, who was shot nine times and lived to tell the tale.
(In light of this, it is clear that 50 Cent is more qualified for the presidency than either
John F. Kennedy or Abraham Lincoln, and I endorse him for the election in 2012.)
To become great, whether it’s in Pokémon or in other worthy pursuits, one must
manage something I would call indifference. Achilles, Napoleon Bonaparte, James Bond,
Wolverine…all the movers and shakers of the world have possessed this quality. What
they had is complete disregard for the established conventions and traditions of society.
Even Santa Clause had to break and enter…. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule
(Luke Skywalker, to use a recycled example), but there are exceptions to every rule—that
is the point. The most worthless conventions, those most deserving to be ignored, are
those airy ones about respect for every person and human rights and compassion and
things like that. Weak people, like priests or pathetic lowlifes who are envious of others’
success, love to tell these lies to try to drag everyone else down to their level. That is why
you must never listen to religious or humanitarian teachings. Forget about Jesus or
Buddha; they may have been real people, but useless failures exploit their legends to their
own ends, to give themselves a false aura of worth in the contest of life. Look what
happened to me when I pitied the meek, humble Squirtle: I got shit fed to me. Concern
yourself with how to reach the top, and the rest will fall into place.
There was one more reason I was never any good at Pokémon: I never understood
the objective of the game. The supposed goal was to fill out the Pokédex, an electronic
encyclopedia that charted what kinds of Pokémon the player had seen or captured.
Whenever the player caught a new Pokémon in the game, the creature’s information
would become available in the Pokédex, including a short blurb describing the unique
traits of that specific Pokémon. The game’s motto, plastered on every Pokémon product,
was “Gotta catch ‘em all!®” So I thought, in my childish little mind, that I was supposed
to collect a specimen of each of the 150 types of Pokémon. How wrong I was! The object
of the game was never to catch ‘em all. The true objective was to train your creatures
until they were strong enough to defeat the Pokémon Masters who resided in the Hall of
Champions. What I never understood was that the one true goal was to beat ‘em all. My
natural curiosity unfortunately distracted me from my quest for total Pokémon
dominance. I was always more interested in exploring the vast world of the game, trying
to find and catch exotic species I had never seen before. I wanted to fill in my Pokédex; I
wanted not only to catch ‘em all, but also to know ‘em all. My foolhardy desire to expand
my knowledge, however, did nothing to help me win. I know now that to be successful,
one must keep one’s eyes on the prize. Don’t learn anything unless it’s necessary to
propel you forward on your trip to the top. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.
So how did my Pokémon career end? I finally got frustrated by the fact that about
30 out of the 150 were missing from my collection, because they only existed in the red
version of the game. I could have traded for them, but then I would have had to find other
kids who played the game, had a Gameboy link cable, had the species I needed, and were
willing to trade for the crappy Pokémon in my own collection. That could have taken
months, even years, so I resorted to desperate measures: I got the cheat codes off the
Internet. Not only did I use the codes that made the unavailable Pokémon appear
instantaneously in my game, but I also used a code that gave me an infinite number of
Master Balls. (Master Balls were devices that enabled one to catch any Pokémon
effortlessly.) Using these codes, I caught 29 of the 30 Pokémon I needed within about 5
minutes, but there was one code that refused to work. No matter what I tried, I just
couldn’t get a damned Mr. Mime to appear.
I was supremely frustrated. One step away from having ‘em all, and I couldn’t go
any further! It didn’t matter one cinch to me that my collection was 99.3% complete, a
level of perfection almost never achieved in anything attempted in real life. Now that I
had 149 species of Pokémon, all in different sizes, shapes, and colors, with every sort of
ability and power imaginable, one would think that the game would have become much
richer, fuller, and more entertaining to me. But the effect was the exact opposite. Since I
could proceed no further, I lost all interest in the game. Looking back on it, I realize now
that the many experiences and events along the path of the game were worthless without
achieving the thrill of final triumph. If you know you can’t win from the outset, then why
play the game? The same goes for life, and you would do well to learn this now. The
things that happen to you and the people whom you meet along the way along the way
provide opportunities to better yourself in the pursuit of personal fulfillment. Using these
opportunities, you must strive with every ounce of your being to reach the top of the
ladder. Without ultimate success, day-to-day life only becomes meaningless and trivial.
I was never to obtain that final Pokémon, as difficult as it was (and still is) for me
to accept. The money I had spent, the battles I had fought, the hours and days I had
consumed alone in my room staring at pixilated animations and enduring those
infuriating polyphonic melodies, had all been for naught. For a short period, I went into
denial. I began to suspect that the game was actually impossible to beat, a cruel trick that
the programmers had played on us kids. My friends, however, assured me that this was
not the case, that they had indeed caught ‘em all. I of course assured them that I had done
the same, but I received their reports with a guarded skepticism. Maybe they were telling
the truth, and they just happened to possess some kind of competitive savvy that I had
failed to develop. Or maybe they were lying. Maybe we were all just lying, covering up
our own private inadequacies and living hollow shams of life in cocoons of preteen
insecurity. Whatever the case, my agony was exponentially augmented by the fact that
every single one of my friends had reportedly caught all 150 Pokémon and beaten the
Pokémon Masters.
I had failed to understand what my more street-smart peers had grasped—always
take the biggest, the baddest, the boldest. On Christmas, open the largest present first. If
there’s a bully in your school, make friends with him; if there’s not, become him. Drive
Hummers and Escalades. Lie, cheat, steal—do whatever it takes to get ahead. If you’re
not first, you’re last. Nice guys finish last, and last does mean least. Loser. Worthless.
Don’t do anything differently from everyone else, and don’t say anything with which
people might disagree; it’ll only hurt yourself. Watch lots of TV; it serves a twofold
purpose of showing you how you should act and entertaining you effortlessly and
instantly. Besides, books are boring and a waste of time. If you’re a guy, find the hottest
girl who will tolerate you, and have sex with her. If you’re a girl, find the richest guy who
will tolerate you, and marry him. Don’t worry about his looks or personality; that’s what
affairs are for. Do whatever feels right, whatever is convenient and easy, and you will be
satisfied and content in life. And always remember the objective of the game: Gotta beat
‘em all!®