For the revival edition of National Bulbagraphic, DCM asked me to write about how Pokémon has impacted my life. Which is a big topic and in many ways one that’s hard to make compelling to others. But there are a handful of big lessons I’ve learned from being in the fandom since 1999 that I think are valuable and worth sharing. Here they are, in no particular order:
There’s Always Someone Better
I started playing in the summer of 1999 and I got my own game for Hanukkah that December. Up until then, I was playing on friends’ carts. It was fun, though, and I enjoyed it a lot. But when I got my own Game Boy Color and Red version, I started playing voraciously. I played for hundreds of hours. And when I had trouble I hit the internet to look for solutions.
For a ten-year-old, one of the lessons you quickly learn when you hit the internet is that there are a lot of people out there. And a lot of them are very, very good at what they do. Azure Heights had people who were so impossibly on top of strategy that I couldn’t fathom it at my age. The big lesson, to me, was that there’s always somebody better out there who you will be beaten by. It’s reassuring in many ways; no matter how hard you work you can’t ever really reach the top. Especially in this game, where strategies differ and a “great” team will always have a counter. Nothing is unstoppable, especially when you factor in chance.
But the realization that there’s always someone better out there brought me to my second lesson...
Strive for Self-Improvement
There’s always someone better and I wanted to keep beating the people better than me. By this point Gold and Silver had just come out and I had logged hundreds of hours on Red. I was okay but not really good. Again, though, I started playing obsessively--and by age 12, I was able to get the deeper tactical nuance that went into the GS metagame. I learned as much as I could and started battling on GSBot, the IRC-based emulator. Creating a team was a twenty minute affair and battles could go twice as long. AtmaCune (now known as CurseCune) was nearly unstoppable, and basically everything worth its salt packed either Curse or was known as SkarmBliss.
I wanted to beat all these people. I was never elite in the OU metagame because I hated being forced into the SkarmBliss AtmaCune Curselax TTar Filler system that had been established. But I worked really hard at alternative strategies and thrived in UU. It was fun and a challenge, and I loved winning. Winning a lot meant I was getting better. And getting better was good.
Learning to be a Team Player
The next and final big step for me in the Pokémon world was learning to be a people person. And I didn’t get this from playing the game or from constantly trying to self-improve on IRC. This happened when I was brought on staff at Bulbagarden in late 2002 by Archaic.
I was a 12-year-old moderator that had to work with people who were overwhelmingly older and more experienced than I was. Also, many were already friends and I knew almost nobody. But I reached out and talked to people and worked with them to help build the forum. It went slowly at first, but we picked it up. Ultimately, I was the first Editor-in-Chief of Bulbapedia, I pushed for the blog system, and I ran the forums. All before the age of 20.
Along the way I learned a lot about teamwork and leadership. It isn’t all about getting your way or pushing through what you think is right. Life involves compromise. It also means that if you’re working with people you can’t just meet them “in the office” and then let it go when you’re done. Being a functional team requires being friends, and I’ve worked to reach out to everyone. If I didn’t, it’d be hard to get myself noticed; if nobody respects you or likes you, your opinions carry no weight.
So, what I’ve learned distilled to a few sentences: Don’t stress about being the best. But always work to get better. Be good to people and they’ll be good to you.
And ultimately, have fun! Pokémon is a fun game and a fun franchise with a great fandom. If you take it too seriously it’ll get you down.