Is “Pokemon” a “Teaching” Video Game?

How can Pokemon be a “teaching” video game?
The Pokemon phenomenon, if you’ve deliberately ducked your head under the cutesy “Pikachu” and his hundreds of friends, was created by Satoshi Tajiri for the Nintendo Game Boy back in the late ’90s. The game features kid-friendly mechanics, lots of cute animal-monster hybrids, and the basic structure of a Japanese RPG, wherein players use an alternating “Player goes first, Computer goes second” combat phase to resolve “battles.” Gamers use each player’s, or in this case, Pokemon’s, skills to attack, defend, and use items. Also typical of the Japanese-style role-playing game: a regular, identifiable protagonist – usually a young male – is thrust into extraordinary circumstances and must fight to save the world or gain notoriety.The system is simple, but deep; players can spend hundreds of hours refining, “leveling-up,” and training their Pokemon to become nearly invulnerable.The game has been blessed with tacit approval from most parents; cartoony “fantasy” violence is acted out by crude avatars with limited animation. These avatars, the screen representation of the various Pokemon the gamers collect, range from pink blobs to fearsome insectoids to giant dragons. When a random or “scripted” meeting occurs, two avatars do battle. They face off on-screen, “attacks” or “skills” are represented by crude, limited animations. For example, an attack like “bite” never shows the player’s Pokemon biting the other; rather, an animation of teeth appears over the rival Pokemon and the opponent’s “health” bar is reduced. Explicit violence is very limited.What the game does well, however, is playing up to humanity’s love for collecting things. You’re exhorted to “Collect ‘em All!” You learn early-on, in-game, of the near-limitless possibilities of the various Pokemon scattered throughout the game world. Depending on which version of the game you’re playing, anywhere between 200 and 400 Pokemon to aggregate. Further randomizing the process, and (again) depending on which version’s being played, each Pokemon has various attributes like “excitable” or “lazy” that have a direct effect on its performances when battling other monsters. More on this later.Pokemon video game teaching evolution?
The game sports a high level of complexity at its core. It’s set up to acclimatize players to the highest concepts; various NPCs (non-player characters) walk players through basic concepts up through the most difficult in-game ideas. You begin your Pokemon life wide-eyed and innocent; hours later, you’re trading Pokemon online, buying special items, and leveling up your monsters with abandon.Towards the endgame, players are encouraged to breed their Pokemon to create more powerful offspring. At that point, the Pokemons’ characteristics (aggressive, lazy, boring, etc) apparently play a large part in their value. You want to “breed” your Pokemon to have battle-friendly characteristics. Furthermore, each Pokemon “evolves” or “grows up” into a more advanced version of itself.Some people have a problem with this. Some groups claimed foul, claiming that the game was a back door into teaching children the concept of evolution. Christian groups, for instance, banned the game for its mostly incidental reference to evolution. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia banned Pokemon from its borders, claiming that it somehow promoted Zionism to children.Despite the protests, 14 years later, Pokemon still prints money for Nintendo. Rather than produce the Pokemon “swag” itself, Nintendo licensed out the rights to nearly anyone who’d pony up the cash. Every time someone buys a movie, or a game, or a plush doll, or a keychain, Nintendo makes money. It was a savvy business decision that’s still netting millions of dollars. The kids just eat it up.So, is Pokemon a “teaching” video game?
The game does little to promote education or teach much of anything besides its in-game rules and rote memorization of its seemingly endless list of collectible monsters. Is it a “teaching” video game?No, not really.If you go out of your way to use the game as a fun, hands-on representation for something else, then sure – it’s a learning video game. On the other hand, you can make that case for nearly any tangible object.Really, the game’s benign. It’s the Saturday morning cartoon of video games: it doesn’t harm your kids, but they could probably be doing something more productive with their time. Let your children have some fun, and mix in some learning video games that actually try to teach and entertain, rather than just entertain.Verdict
If the kids are screaming for Pokemon, you might be better off just letting them scratch that itch. If you’ve the time, Pokemon could be used as a wishy-washy teaching video game, possibly as an introduction into the idea of evolution. But honestly, you’d have to go out of your way to make it a valuable lesson. It’s harmless, if sometimes a little too compulsive, fun for youngsters.Let ‘em play, but watch to make sure they come up for air every now and again.

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