Pokémon Casuals

I wanna be the very best. Or, alternatively, I want to enjoy my video games and ride into battle accompanied by a prehistoric lima bean. Pokémon, like many of my favorite games, has an expansive competitive feature that is filled up with min-maxxers the likes of which I simply don’t have time to compete with. I have class.

However I do have time to watch videos on the internet regarding games. And I found this: A Buzzfeed video titled “People Try to Guess Gamer Slang” which now has 1.5 million views and thousands of comments, many complaining about the use of the phrase “experienced gamers.” One of the top comments reads:

gamerslang.PNG

This comment is a little weird considering Nintendo (the company behind the Wii U and 3DS) is widely held responsible for both the variety and popularity of video games today. Earlier systems such as NES are generally said to be impossibly difficult and thus the epitome of real video games. Additionally, people played NES without internet guides to help them along. Which means it is even more difficult and, presumably, real. Surely games like Pokémon, accessible only on Nintendo platforms, are purely casual games according to Youtuber EwoksPlaysGames.

As of the announcement of Pokémon Sun and Moon for the 3DS, there are 718 Pokémon with a minimum of nine new ones on the way. But realistically the odds of Nintendo restraining themselves to just nine new Pokémon are about as low as the odds of catching Mewtwo in a poke ball with no damage or stat modifiers, probably lower since you have at least a 3% chance of success with the latter. Pokémon is, above all, a numbers game. And if there’s anything to be learned from min-maxxers it’s that every single stat counts. Except for two.

The goal of competitive play is to create the mathematically optimal team and apply it perfectly, expecting variables and engaging in a number of checks and balances. Rock beats fire and flying is just the start. A competitive team needs to average Individual Values – IVs- of 30 or higher, the highest possible IV being 31. As the odds of a Pokémon inheriting one maxed-out stat is only 2:6, this is an arduous task. After producing this team, intense and specific grinding against the correct enemies to ensure an optimal EV – Effort Value – spread is required. The most you can get from a wild encounter is 3 EVs and you have to fill 508 EVs (out of 510 – remember, two don’t count). You’ll have to spread those out amongst whatever stats you think are most important, and until gen VI, there were no do-overs. Imperfect stats aren’t competitively viable so a bad spread or a low IV total means a losing team.

But optimizing an individual Pokémon will not ensure a win in competitive play either. There are dozens of Pokémon that simply are not competitively viable. No matter how you spread their stats, mathematically perfect Wigglytuff can’t beat mathematically perfect Greninja, which heads hundreds of competitive teams. The player needs to choose and arrange a team that can counter whatever you’re most likely to see in your respective tier (whatever your ranking may be). On lower rankings, you can basically play whatever you want and lord over all those smug Japanese 12-year-olds who thought their Pidgeotto could stand up to my Dragonite. On higher tiers, though, you’re more likely to get smashed by the same team of three over and over.

Aside from this killing the magic of having so many Pokémon to choose from – there are 718 and only about 50 are both competitively viable and legal (I.E. not banned under tournament rules) in competitive play – it sends a message that being a Pokémon master has more to do with how much free time you have on your hands. Your average player probably won’t have the time or the patience to spend hours producing a competitively viable team only for a new ability or type to completely trash their strategy (such as a Dragonite tank swinging Substitute, Dragon Dance, Earthquake, and Outrage being made useless by Fairy-type Togekiss, wow I’m bitter).

So the majority of Pokémon fans have little more than a casual interest in playing through the games, maybe attempting a self-imposed challenge such as a solo run (a team featuring only one Pokémon), a randomized run (using a mod to randomize all encounters) or a Nuzlocke (must catch the first Pokémon per route, if a Pokémon faints it is considered dead and should be released). But for those that have the free time there are sizable monetary rewards.

You can put yourself through college by being a Pokémon master. Isn’t life grand?

Increasingly this is the case with most games – a player with a casual interest in Dark Souls can stumble through Lordran without worrying too much about having the optimal stat spread but might get smashed on competitive play using their very best weapons and armor, all upgraded and enchanted as much as they could manage. The difference is, Dark Souls is real games, according to these youtube gaming “elites” (by the comment section these seem to be mostly fans of First Person Shooters, which features competitive play contingent on a fast internet connection).

To be fair, Youtuber EwoksPlaysGames doesn’t claim to be a professional (or experienced) gamer. Their channel both has no content and explicitly states their casual interest in games. So that really begs the question of why commenters like EwoksPlaysGames feel the need to preserve the integrity of Xbox and PlayStation and PC gaming by decrying Nintendo as casual and suitable only for children (something which should not be detrimental to its reputation). Part of this seems to be due to the fact that EwokPlaysGames never explored the competitive aspects of Nintendo.

gamerslang 2

And even if EwokPlaysGames dropped everything to become a Pokémon Master, should he have to? The beauty of games as a medium is that they can be experienced in different ways, either by players thrilled by the variety of stories some games entail, the art of game-development, the mechanics of competitive and story play, or just as a way to pass time, like reading a visual novel or watching a movie.

Going through the main story armed with a trusty-yet-over-leveled Raticate should be a viable way to experience Pokémon. After all, it works.

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3 thoughts on “Pokémon Casuals

  1. I really enjoy the playful, slightly irreverent tone of this cultural critique. That tone is established early: “Pokémon, like many of my favorite games, has an expansive competitive feature that is filled up with min-maxxers the likes of which I simply don’t have time to compete with. I have class.” Your critique is a discussion, explanation, and defense of Pokémon all at once, designed for readers who know a bit more about the game than I do, but that first mention of “min-maxxers” is an industry-specific term that us laypeople can still understand, so that’s good. Also, I think that video link early in your piece of people trying to guess gaming terms is a great way to reel in those who might identify with the folks not understanding the terminology. In short, then, I do think you succeed in hooking in those of us only casually into gaming (or not at all, like me!).

    So what about the specifics of Pokémon? How successful is your critique on that end? I’m having trouble locating your main critique, but I think I see it in the statement that there are dozens of Pokémon that “are not competitively viable” (or legal!). I’m just not sure the point of that comment or how it relates to your main point. Further, you swing down in the end to where those playing Dark Souls can do so with a mere “casual interest,” but they and the game are still respected, unlike Pokémon by the likes of gamer EwoksPlayGames. So, the critique seems to be more a defense of the complexity and competitive features of Pokéman, and a defense of Nintendo in general. Such a competitive profile is clear in your discussion of the game and the multiple strategies and maneuvers inherent in it and its evolving related Pokemon games. I leave your critique feeing that I may want to brave my first Pokémon game without the confusion and intimidation in which I approach other games! That’s a great thing! Yet the critique is never quite clear to me as to your main point(s), as lost in the game jargon and delightful tone is the actual cultural critique. I get it, maybe . . . probably . . . I think . . . but that’s too noncommittal from what I should be experiencing after a cultural critique on such an interesting topic. I’m off in search of my prehistoric lima bean . . .

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  2. One of the things this post does best is it examines the Pokemon and Dark Souls universe from a magnified perspectiive. The idea that gamers should be allowed to enjoy different games for different reasons is summarized clearly when you state ” The beauty of games as a medium is that they can be experienced in different ways, either by players thrilled by the variety of stories some games entail, the art of game-development, the mechanics of competitive and story play, or just as a way to pass time, like reading a visual novel or watching a movie.” My only suggestion would be to try to expand on some of the game references you make for those who have never played Pokemon of Dark Souls.

    -Richard (ENG 201)

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  3. I can totally relate to the fanboy, fangirl response that the gaming genre entails. The need for fans to stake a claim to a platform and lobby for it while dismissing or putting down another are actions that I find silly. Yes, Nintendo gets a lot of hate from the gaming community, due to the fact that their platform is focused on the “family fun” type of experience. This post does very well in defending the fact that Nintendo has games that require skill and are viable enough to be considered competitive and should be respected just like any other gaming company. Although, I do miss the days of the original 150 Pokemon! I grew up playing Pokemon Red and Blue, so I have a soft spot for those cute little pocket monsters. We not only see this type of fanboyism just in games genre, there are people who are die-hard Apple fans vs Android fans, Mac vs Pc and Marvel vs DC. Why do we find the need to pick a side? Sure we can enjoy one more than the other, but why do we have to diss the latter?
    -Joel R

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