Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Pokémon

I’ve grown up — rather fondly, I might add — with Pokémon. Over the years the several different hundreds of pocket monsters have become my dear friends. Simply settling into a new game (like I’ve recently done with Black) is a comfort to me. In a tumultuous, changing world, I find solace in the fact that while the games have metamorphosed over the years, whittling down a health bar or throwing a Poké Ball haven’t changed. When so many things I can’t control refuse to stay the same, these smaller precious memories become infinitely more dear to me.

Of course, this phenomenon hasn’t been around forever. When I was in elementary school, the craze hadn’t yet been fully realized. I was the weird pigtailed nerdling recruiting “trainers” to “battle” via vending machine capsules (Poké Balls) and the piece of paper inside illustrated with a stick-figure Pokémon. We’d shout out attacks and carry anything we could find in our backpacks that even slightly resembled the illustrious red and white globes. Several “trainers” defected to Team Rocket and would hassle us at recess. I decided to call myself Jessie and my buddy Jamie got the honor of being James. Later in the year I researched Robert Goddard as part of an overhead projector assignment and the two of us somehow managed to earn an A though we recited the Rocket motto during the presentation. Life was good.

The years advanced and Pokémon grew with me. My network of fellow trainers expanded into a global organization. I didn’t need to rely on Tamagotchi candy keychains or capsules to role-play. The advent of the Pokémon games simply felt like a natural extension of the non-video games I played throughout school. Though I had considered myself a gamer long before the introduction of Pokémon Red and Blue, the day those games were announced was no less monumental.

Perhaps even as a child I knew something big was happening. Maybe I could sense the significance of that event; the impact one simple game could have on my future as a gamer, an anime fan, a geek, and as a person. The first few magical hours I spent with Pokémon Blue (for Meowth, my favorite Pokémon) were nothing short of mindblowing. I knew something fantastic had landed. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered what, exactly.

Delving back into that familiar world with the re-releases that have been bestowed upon loyal fans of late has taught me several valuable lessons: lessons that I didn’t realize were being taught all of this time, and some that are so relevant to this point in my life that it’s scary. I don’t intend to create meaning where there surely is none, but I’m putting fingers to the keyboard today to share the life lessons that I’ve learned (and am still getting down) from the wonderful world of Pokémon.

Of course, I have to thank regular, inspirational people for teaching me some of these lessons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t glean some savory knowledge from Pokémon. Come with me, and perhaps leave enlightened.

Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Pokémon

1. Being an overachiever is in no way a bad thing.

Simply squeaking by has never been the trademark of successful individuals. In school, I resented the fact that I could read earlier than my fellow students, and that my teachers asked me to complete book reports on Marie Curie or Clara Barton while my classmates gathered on the square carpet and participated in reading aloud from our colorful storybooks. I couldn’t understand why I should have to work so hard just because I was capable of doing it. Alienation wasn’t something I appreciated, and I definitely felt it when my teacher, Mrs. McGraw, would announce to the class that I would not be joining them in their egg-shell-in-a-glass-of-Coke experiment analysis, that I was busy with a book report and did not need to be bothered. It frustrated me. It enraged me. Most of all, my feelings were hurt. I just wanted to be the same, to squeak by with forgetting my homework or fudging some incorrect reading comprehension questions. I was lazy and began spelling words I knew full well were wrong just to try to prove to my teachers that I needed time to learn, too, and that I didn’t want to do all of that extra work.

Coincidentally, around that time, I found myself running into trouble in Pokémon. I'd try to face Pokémon gym leaders having only battled when absolutely necessary, flee from duplicated wild encounters, and try to coast through the game with my overpowered starter monster. I didn’t see the point in wasting time on Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Caterpies when adventure was waiting around the corner. So when I met up with Misty, who fought water with my water (Squirtle), I was in a bit of a quandary. I couldn’t comprehend why my Squirtle wasn’t doing the job all by himself, and why Misty was pummeling me with that darn Starmie. My initial approach to change the outcome of the battle was to simply stock up on potions and run in guns blazing. And just as you can imagine, I failed miserably.

I tried the impossible after that: I leveled my Pokémon team equally, grinding level to level even though the repetition bored me to tears. I ensured that every single member of my team was fully capable, level-wise, of tackling Misty, even if it meant they were criminally overleveled. When Starmie fell to my Pidgeotto, I was floored, overjoyed, in the way that only you can be after taking out a particularly austere boss. And it dawned on me: what if my parents, teachers, and the rest of the adults in my life were right? What if they saw potential in me and were preparing me for that great boss battle that we know as life? After those days, my overachieving didn’t seem like too much of an issue anymore. In fact, I saw it as a necessity, and something that I’d continue to uphold throughout the rest of my school days despite the teasing from friends who considered me a nerd or a teacher’s pet, or those who assumed I was doing more than everyone else for attention. I enjoyed the praise from faculty and especially my parents, but they didn’t know I was a workhorse because I just wanted to be prepared.

These days I waver, with all of the responsibilities I attempt to take on, and I’ve worked myself away from the overachiever I grew up as. But as I run into real-world issues that I need to tackle, I find myself reliving that battle with Misty, and forcing myself to complete everything I need to, and more, even if there’s a little repetition involved. Breezing through the game didn’t earn me that Cascade Badge. It’s not going to make me a professional journalist, either.

For reminding me that working harder than hard is integral to success, I have Pokémon to thank.

Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Pokémon

2. Being “bad” might be cool, but it won’t get you where you want to be.

It’s almost universal knowledge that I haven’t always been a savory individual. Heck, I’m still not. I fed on controversy and being an angry annoyance and the anonymous call-you-out-in-the-hallway-for-being-a-douche voice you heard in school. I didn’t get along well with others. That’s a road I’m still trying to pave, improving human relations. Being a rebel was always more appealing to me. Doing bad, speaking out, and most importantly, looking ten kinds of awesome were more important than earning anyone’s trust, approval, or friendship.

This worked for me for several years. I happily coasted through life with no regard for the repercussions of my actions. Because being cool was way more important — being the outcast, the voice of the under-represented. Being a jerk was fun, and as long as I was a jerk to the right people it worked. In return, though, what has it ever gotten me? Universal dislike. The loss of respect from peers I have wanted nothing but to get along with. It’s gotten me into plenty of hairy situations, and the bad kind of experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Think about it for a second and realize that Team Rocket has never successfully captured Pikachu for old Giovanni. It’s true. But tell me they don’t look wicked awesome doing their motto, parading around in their coordinated costumes, and popping off with witty quips. Sure, they seemed like bad enough dudes, but did they ever really succeed in their mission? No. But we laud them anyway. And in-game, whenever we saw members of the dreaded Rocket gang hanging around, weren’t the first things that came to mind how obnoxious it was going to be to listen to their corny lines of dialogue, battle their stupid Raticates and Koffings, and earn little experience to show for it? They were the in-game Buzz Killingtons. Did they even have friends of their own except their fellow Rockets? They never exuded anything but disgusting overconfidence along with, I’m sure, some unsavory smells. While they might have looked in the mirror and seen a cool, confident organization with goals surpassing that of any mere trainer, those of us looking in from the outside were laughing, and not along with them. Perhaps they were a successful and influential organization in their own right, but never to the ones who mattered most.

Through several incidents and words from friends, I’ve had to to learn that hard lesson myself, to drop how “cool” I want to be from being a complete rhymes-with-Witch in order to get anywhere. And it’s a lesson you can take away from the infamous organization as well, especially if you find yourself headed down that path. When the urge to transform into a tough guy hits, ask yourself: Is this going to land me that Pikachu? Chances are, no. No, it’s not. Will it get you a one-way ticket to a punch into next Tuesday, hatred from your peers, and a solitary road to a destination you think you’re entitled to? Meowth, dat’s right.

For reminding me that being a terrible person isn’t going to get me anywhere, I have Team Rocket to thank.

Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Pokémon

3. Cheating to get ahead will only hurt you in the end.

I was the proud owner of a Game Genie back in Pokémon’s infancy. Really, I preferred to thumb through the tiny booklet embedded in the back of the device rather than actually put them to use, but I was known to cheat here and there to get all of the Pokémon I possibly could.

I saw no harm in entering codes to capture the elusive Mew. I was no stranger to the Cinnabar Island trick, exploiting the infinite item glitch and pocketing the strange Pokémon that resulted as I surfed along Cinnabar’s coast. Leveling my team to 99 was tiresome, tedious work, and when I realized an infinite amount of Rare Candies could do the job in half the time, I knew I’d have a team of fighting-fit behemoths in no time. After that, trouncing my competition (which, back then consisted of classmates and my cousins) would be no contest.

Ever the egomaniac, I decided all of my pocket monsters should level to 99, no matter which one. Despite the warnings from friends who had attempted the same item exploitation over and over with grave results, I pressed on because that was a fast track to success. And how would my friends know I hadn’t simply poured all of my time into the game? They wouldn’t. I’d come out smelling like roses, and earn their undying trust and respect... or so I thought.

I can still vividly recall the day of “the big Pokémon battle,” as we had coined it in our various circles. All of my bragging was finally going to be put to the test. Before class began that day, I had gotten out my Game Boy to do some last-minute tinkering. It seemed I was curiously low on Rare Candies, and a level 99 Porygon wasn’t going to simply appear out of thin air. Off I journeyed to Cinnabar Island after painstakingly sitting through the tired old man’s schtick about catching a Weedle. Right on time, Missingno. appeared, and in a moment of pure cockiness I tossed a Master Ball and incorporated it into my party. What would they possibly say if I won all of the battles with a Pokémon that shouldn’t even exist? At lunch that day I hurriedly began to link up with my first opponent, when I realized I hadn’t yet turned off my Game Boy from my tinkering earlier. I decided it wasn’t an issue and proceeded to go through the necessary motions to enter the coliseum, which included saving my game.

I had already started the trash talking, “Missingno. is at his highest level, and I’m gonna win,” etc. I can only imagine how corny I sounded. But I was about to be thrown off my high horse and into a brick wall, as my Game Boy’s screen grew black, as if the game had reset itself. My first assumption was that it had simply died. My friends crowded around the screen, wildly excited as this was the “big” event of the day, and most of them were waiting to take my place and battle their next opponent. I turned the system back on, hurriedly, only to discover that my save data was, well, nonexistent.

I cried in public in the lunch room that day, and I know I was made fun of as I ran to shove the game in my backpack. I didn't look at it again until I got home, where I found that saving Missingno. could result in loss of game data or several other complications. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as it wasn’t even an entity that should have existed in the first place. Yet I was so hellbent on being #1 that I had forgone winning the honest and respectable way.

To this day, I won’t glitch in a Pokémon game, and I prefer to keep my methods strictly conventional. Of course, this translates into real life as well. Throughout my 24 years of living, I’ve been known to partake in shady dealings simply to make myself seem innocent or better than others, and when I think back to the loss of all of that work that I did in Pokémon (even while cheating) I am literally sick to my stomach.

The honest journey I made to obtain all of the Pokémon was so much longer than it needed to be, but boy did it feel good when I finally completed the game. In the real world, these same principles apply. You can cheat and swindle for instant gratification, but it only takes one time for all that you’ve worked to build to come tumbling down before you. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Be you, be honest. It’s hard, and something I struggle with even today — taking the easy way to victory. But it’s a lesson worth learning.

For reminding me that cheaters never prosper, I have Missingno. to thank.

Five Life Lessons I've Learned From Pokémon

4. Don’t discount the “little people” in life.

For anyone who’s ever played a Pokémon game, this should be a no-brainer. Consider a Magikarp. Their splashing may be worthless in the long run, but wait for them to grow. Would you want to deal with them when they’ve fully grown up and “splashing” is at the bottom of their list?

Sometimes it’s the most “insignificant” people you know who end up influencing your life the most, and it’s important to give credit where credit is due.

For reminding me never to discount the underdogs and the “little people,” I have Magikarp to thank.

5. Think your work in life is over? There’s so much more to do.

Once upon a time, there were 151 different pocket monsters.

Today, there are several hundred, as you can gather from the exhaustively detailed Pokedex entries around the internet. And you thought you were a master? Think again.

No matter how hard you work in life or how much you accomplish, you’re never going to finish bettering yourself. There are an infinite number of ways to continually improve your life, your personality, your living situation, and even the company you keep. Don’t settle when you think you’ve reached a zenith. There’s always something more to do, a new challenge to conquer, and a new “legendary” moment waiting in life for you to tackle.

Life moves faster than the blink of an eye, and if you’re not ready for it it may just pass you by. So realize that your work on this planet is never done until you draw your dying breath, and keep on living and learning for yourself, your loved ones, and for the dreams you know you can’t give up on.

For reminding me that I can’t just give up now, I have Pokémon to thank.

What can you thank Pokémon for?

Brittany Vincent is a freelance entertainment writer who wields a BFG made of killer ambition. Find her work at a multitude of digital and print publications like GameSpot, Complex, Maximum PC, Japanator, and more. If you did Space Funeral, her portfolio can be found at pfhorthewin.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @MolotovCupcake. Hope you like Chiller.