I have a confession to make: I didn’t study for my algebraic topology midterm because I couldn’t stop playing Pokemon.
The truth is, for the last eighteen years (and I’m turning 27, so that’s two-thirds of my life), Pokemon has been one of the few constants from year to year: Pokemon was there when I played with my friends in Hebrew school; Pokemon was there when my parents my separated and I went back and forth between my parents houses while my mom was at school; and Pokemon was there when I began college myself and needed something, or anything, to pass the time when I wasn’t studying.
And Pokemon was also there when I should’ve been studying last week. In fact, Pokemon–in its many iterations–has been keeping me from homework for a long time.
I thought perhaps I was using Pokemon as a way to avoid something that scares me. Math is dangerous. Math is a threat. It makes me feel stupid and insecure and as if my life is going nowhere, like I’m stuck on a Mobius strip and can’t tell my left from my right.
(As an aside, on a Mobius strip, they’re actually indistinguishable.)
Because all the years of my life I’ve been a Pokemon Master. Because growing up I could turn off the game and reset things if I lost the battle (and I lost many) or if I didn’t catch that rare Pokemon (and trust me, I’ve missed many) or if for any other reason, I needed a second try: There was always that save point that I could return to that, you know, allowed me to take one extra step toward being perfect.
And I was a good student, and teachers loved me and had confidence in my abilities, and I was a leader on campus, and staff members saw my potential and encouraged me, and though I hadn’t grown up with money, I’d grown up with plenty–plenty of possessions, of support, of people holding me up and keeping me from falling.
So I became trained for success, and everything less was unacceptable.
So now math is legitimately scary. I’m not making A’s anymore. I haven’t been for semesters. In fact, if I’ve learned anything in my time at NC State University, it’s that I can’t do everything (which is contrary to the one thing I learned at Guilford Tech, which was that I could, in fact, do anything, and last I checked, anything really is everything).
It’s a sad state of affairs, and while I can blame no one but myself (not that blame is important), the truth remains that it still stings when I don’t get good grades. For good reason, too: I’m spending a lot of money to get this education, and I want it to mean something, and it does mean something. But that importance to me also makes it scary.
And you thought this was going a post about Pokemon?
I mean, face it, Pokemon are also scary. There are Pokemon that burn brighter (and hotter) than the surface of the sun, ones that can control your mind against your will or will abduct you if you stray from the forest path, and they won’t let you come back.
Pokemon, unlike irrational fears of failure, are easily defeated. If you’re going up against that Psychic-Type ready to snatch you away (I know, I know, Snatch is a Dark-Type move), then you have in your arsenal any number of super-effective attacks–you could go in with Dark-Type, Ghost-Type, or even Bug-Type (I never did understand why Psychic Pokemon are weak against Bug Pokemon), and then–WHAM!–you win.
The psychological underpinnings of anxiety have no such known weaknesses.
So, as that fear of inevitable failure sets in, so too, does the avoidance.
And when I spent all my time avoiding my math homework to play Pokemon, I thought–really thought–that I was using my childhood pastime to avoid my adulthood life.
Then I realized I was completely, entirely wrong.
I mean, truth be told, I do have avoidant tendencies, but I wasn’t (entirely) using Pokemon as a means of avoidance: I just genuinely, legitimately love Pokemon.
This epiphany, through a strange train of mental acrobats, actually came about when I realized that my first love wasn’t mathematics, wasn’t politics, wasn’t even education, but writing. I love telling stories, sharing stories, expressing and connecting.
And, as my list of first loves wore on, I finally said it: I love Pokemon.
This is Pokemon’s twentieth anniversary. It’s a big year–and a couple weeks ago, Nintendo announced Pokemon’s biggest news of the last three years: Generation VII.
Now I’m not a Gen I-er (kudos if you know what that means), but Pokemon Red was my first adventure, and Pokemon Silver is still what comes to mind on a perfect day. These weren’t just the games of my childhood; they were the games of my development. I loved reading books as a kid, but reading text boxes in RPGs like Pokemon certainly played a role in developing my love of words. Learning the sources of each Pocket Monster’s name fed my lust for etymology, and learning their origins, my addiction to folklore and mythology. Some of my earliest stories were about new manifestations of the monster-catching genre (melded, mind you, with the coloring of Harry Potter, Digimon, and Disney movies) and while the mythical monsters that I captured in my mind eventually wore away, those same characters still live on in the greatest chapters of the mythology I’m still writing, and will probably be writing long into my grave.
So the greatest story I want to tell was, in some way, inspired by Pokemon.
Last week, on the eve of my midterm, I received my latest splurge: a limited-edition Pokemon Twentieth Anniversary Nintendo New 3DS with matching Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue face plates with these eponymous virtual console titles pre-installed.
I’ve been saving for it since it was announced, and I wasn’t sure if it was a smart buy or not, but when the release date came around and they were sold out, I felt devastated. So when I found a place where I could buy it, I knew without a doubt I had to.
My eagerness to open it up, to turn it on, to play Pokemon Red for the very first time once again–it wasn’t avoidance, it was enthusiasm and nostalgia.
It wasn’t that every particle of my being was so terrified by math that I couldn’t look at it. It was that every fiber of my form yearned to be reunited with this agent of inspiration.
Realizing this was such a relief. For weeks I was overwhelmed by my inability to focus on topology. (Yes, part of that was because I had the flu, but illness withstanding…) I began questioning my love for math, my life decisions, and always I kept coming back to my 3DS and turning on Pokemon Shuffle, or Pokemon Picross, or Pokemon AlphaSapphire, or any other rendition I’ve had on me at school. And don’t even get me started on how many hours I spent reading speculation for Pokemon Sun and Moon since the day before they were officially revealed. It’s been mind-numbing and amazing.
When it finally occurred to me what was really going on, all that doubt began to dissipate. Yes, I still avoid things because I’m afraid of failing, and I still put off doing my math work because it’s hard and makes me feel inadequate, but despite all of those things, I still love math–I just happen to love Pokemon more.
And that’s okay. When I’m observing a math tutoring session (that’s my day job), watching the students do calculus is as much fun, if not more, than Pokemon. If only doing math myself were that engaging…but actually it is. When I get over the inertia of feeling afraid to do math, I really love it. I could talk about numbers and surfaces and knots all day long and then spend another week just discussing mathematical pedagogy. It may not be singular, but it’s still a genuine, fully-fledged passion.
And that’s reassuring, because now I can put Pokemon and math in their respective places. I can clench my fingers into fists when my muscles ache to open my handheld and press the power button on, and then promise myself, if I read one more section, if I review one more day of notes, if I work on one more exercise, I’ll reward myself and play. Realizing Pokemon is my incentive, not my distraction, makes all the difference.