Pokemon Wednesday: Round Three

When I was younger (and by all regards, I’m still young–don’t get me wrong–but bear with me please), Hebrew school was the cornerstone of my life. “Wait,” you say, “this is Pokemon Wednesday. What’s Hebrew school got to do with it?” I’ll get there. I repeat: Bear with me please. My mother, kitchen manager of my synagogue, and my sister, attending college ten minutes across town, simultaneously set the stage for me to spend most of my days (at least, as memory serves; fact itself may differ accordingly) trapped in my synagogue’s social hall doing schoolwork, reading, wandering around aimlessly as I fantasised about worlds I’ve still yet to commit to paper, and–here it comes–playing Pokemon. Although many great things I’ve accredited to this confinement, the one in particular I choose to recall today is the only one of relevance here: The conjunction between Pokemon and Hebrew school.

(For all you English majors out there, I forewarn thee that I speak figuratively, not literally: “And” has never held much potential as an entire discourse, although perhaps students of philosophy might argue that it’s one of the few words that can speak endlessly on its own. But I digress. Syntax isn’t called “sin-tax” for nothing.)

My best friend at the time arrived after school every Tuesday and Thursday at three. One of the things we shared aside from conversations, rude jokes, tag, and wagon slides down the hill was Pokemon. We both played, and in many ways he was one of the reasons why I started playing at all. It was all about winning. It was all about being the best. The strategic component had yet to be discovered, if merely yet to be embraced. It was the challenge of being victorious that was the thrill. Now it’s the challenge of being masterful that keeps me going on. And, in a strange twisted open-ended quandary of fate, Pokemon has made a resurgence at religious school.

In my students.

It’s a question worth pondering, watching them. They’ve on numerous occasions asked my assistance, and willingly I’ve given it to them, either before class begins or during break (and certainly never during class itself; a staple rule I uphold, ironically enough, rather religiously). One of the most frequent questions they ask aside from how to get to this city or past this place is how to beat the Elite Four, the strongest quartet in the main storyline of the game and the decided cause of true “victory” before the post-game game resumes play. Each time, I’ve started by analysing the issue with a simple question: What level are your Pokemon?

(For those unaware, Pokemon are trained and their relative strength is given by their level, which can range between one and one hundred. Of course, the individual stats of each Pokemon, as measured in six areas, can vary tremendously across different species and even across different Pokemon of the same species all with the same level, but a good rule of thumb is to be a few levels higher than the opponent you’re trying to beat, unless you’ve trained your Pokemon to perfection and use every strategy available to win, but that’s a discussion unnecessary here.)

In any case, to this question, they’ve consistently informed me of one thing: They have one or two super-powered Pokemon whose level far exceeds that of their other Pokemon, whose levels are far lower than could stand against their opponents. The problem here is that, even though simple mathematics would argue that averaging these levels would create equally matched teams, a team of one strong Pokemon and a bunch of weak ones is weaker than a team composed of Pokemon of equal levels that are lower than that of the highest in the first example. The same is true in real life, especially in small groups and even in college classrooms.

Consider a group of maybe four or five people working on a project together. If there’s one really skilled person and the rest are weaker in the subject, no matter how strong the leader is, the others cannot support him or her and are only able to lessen the value of the final product. However, if instead these four or five people are more equally skilled, if not as able as the aforementioned strong unit, they will be able to support each other adequately and collaborate to produce a product greater than the sum of its parts (to add a little math humor to the mix, why not?).

Or consider a classroom. If there are a few A students and a bunch of F students, the class average is going to be very low (and the teacher will get poor reviews from the administration) for no matter how high the A students score, the failing grades will bring them all down. But if the class instead were filled with a large number of B and C students, the average would undoubtedly be higher, even without the A students to help boost the overall grade average. In both cases, it’s clear to see that a little less strength more equally divided is better for the whole than a little strength here or there and a lot of weakness everywhere else.

How does this apply to Pokemon and how does this further apply to life? I think it’s a lesson. Like most things, if we look closely enough, and if we take enough care, we can learn the most extravagant of lessons from the simplest things.

Thinking back to my own experience playing Pokemon, when I, too, had my powerhouses and my weaklings, I can see how this simple game (I use the word “simple” sparingly) can teach people, children especially, the importance of teamwork and group dynamics. No single Pokemon is strong enough to prove victorious over everyone else; and so, too, is no person strong enough to get through life all on their own. We need to work as a team, helping each other to grow, covering their weaknesses with our strengths for the benefit of everyone. Through teamwork and cooperation, a greater end result is produced for all involved. Through participation and equality, a superior state of existence is attained through which all obstacles can be surpassed and all goals achieved. Through dedication and hard work from all individuals in a group, even a few small people can move the world.

All of this, perhaps unknowingly, I have learned from playing Pokemon. Although my students haven’t learned this yet (no matter how many times I’ve told them its necessity, they’ve yet to learn it), it is inevitable that in time they will, and when that happens, they won’t have to ask for assistance, but will be able to assist themselves. And, perhaps, just maybe, this realisation of the need for teamwork in a virtual world will help prepare them for all the teamwork life will demand of them. After all, at this point, all we can do is hope that they, too, will learn the lessons we’ve already been taught.

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