Pokemon as a Learning Opportunity

I don't know much about Pokemon—but I'd like to help a mom understand how much learning playing Pokemon on a Gameboy might entail. Can you help?

Schuyler Waynforth wrote:

Pokemon are amazing! Simon, who has been watching Pokemon since he was three and playing Pokemon on the gameboy since he was four, has learned absolutely amazing things from that relationship.

Pokemon for the gameboy is an RPG, so there is a story going on, so understanding narrative, and a lot of moving around, spatial skills, map reading. Every Pokemon gameboy game, other than Mystery Dungeon and Pokemon Rangers (and a couple of racing ones and a tetris like one) start with a child moving in to a new house and having to set the clock and then go and meet the professor in the lab next door. The child picks one starter pokemon from a choice of three—a leaf pokemon, a fire pokemon and a water pokemon. Whichever one picked changes, a bit, the strategy the player uses.

Pokemon have weaknesses to other types of pokemon. There are fire, water, leaf, rock, ghost, psychic, ground, electric, and some others that I'm not thinking of at the minute. Whichever type you have can give you an edge over another type, or may make you weak against their attacks. So rock types are weak against water types. And that knowledge, that relationship understanding, helps the player to prepare for the big boss level battles: the gym battles. Which is so much about strategy and planning.

So, what kind of learning so far: narrative, spatial skills, map reading, planning, strategy, logic, reading skills (there is tons of reading in pokemon), numeracy (lots of numbers, levelling up your pokemon, how many pokemon you've collected, money, lots of numbers).

And then there is the sideways learning. The guy who created pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, loved to collect insects as a child and Pokemon is sort of born from that love. So there is a lot of biology involved. Pokemon evolve (which I'm sure is a poor translation from the Japanese for metamorphosis) into other pokemon, so a Geodude becomes a Graveler becomes a Golem, some of which, like Geodude, is just change. But some is clearly moving from a larval stage through a chrysalis and into an adult form, like caterpie who becomes metapod (a cocoon) who becomes butterfree. There is also archaeology and evolution as change over time, in that there are ancient type pokemon, and there is usually an archealogical site somewhere in the game.

There are other interesting aspects to Pokemon, like you have to be able to train your pokemon or they won't listen to you, so you must have a certain number of gym badges to keep your pokemon's respect when they get to higher levels. What kind of pokemon are around can change over the course of the day and where you are. If you want to catch 'em all, you have to not only know where they are and have the right pokeballs, but some have to be traded for with other players with the other game cartridge--the game releases were always at least as a pair. You get a reference book (the pokedex) to sort out the pokemon you've encountered or caught with more information available from the ones you've caught. You can enter your pokemon in beauty contests in the later versions of the games. And it is a Japanese game, so there are wonderful Japanese specifics, like tatami rooms and open marketplaces and Japanese temples, and Japanese food, and the Japanese love of vitamins and health enhancing drinks.

I found an interview with Satoshi Tajeri (http://users.otenet.gr/~tzelepisk/yc/st.htm#profile ) where he says, in answer to the question What does Pokemon bring to the children: Decisively, it's a different world which would support the children's hearts. I think every person feels the different things in this game, but Pokemon is always with everyone. It's true.

I like the idea of Pokemon being a world which would support the children's hearts.

There is another interesting interview with Satoshi Tajeri here: http://pokedream.com/pokemon/infocenter/tajiri.php .

I hope something there helps.


To add a few things to Schuyler's list:

Researching: there are game guides for every game, big books of game tips and a listing of every Pokemon in the game, complete with their stats, abilities and attacks. After a few years of practice, my son Fisher (9.5) knows how to get every bit of information out of that guide, when he needs it, and knows how to apply it.

Naturalistic intelligence: The way it's defined by Howard Gardner. Each Pokemon has certain characteristics, and they fit into various categories. Pokemon fans understand all the nuances of those, and the amount of information they can store in their heads that way (because it fits into categories that are meaningful to them) is amazing.

Anime and manga: Pokemon was our introduction into the world of Japanese animation and comics. We branched out into the very artful Miyazaki movies (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa—all beautiful), as well as into other manga and anime like Inuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist. *Lots* of beautiful stories and a cultural range that is quite awe-inspiring.

"Math" and "writing": Because Fisher has seen so many graphical representations of Pokemon stats in the different guides, he is extremely comfortable creating bar graphs, circle charts and more as he creates his own characters for various pretend games that he invents. It was in the Pokemon guides that he first saw how he wanted his own descriptions and stats to look, and now he creates lots of characters and pretend worlds based on that template.

Imagination: I cannot tell you how many pretend Pokemon battles, contests, races, camp-outs, and parties we've had over the years. Hundreds, I'm sure. Hundreds of times that he's taken this idea of Pokemon and worked out his own pretend world, his own ideas about social interaction and relationships, his own stories, his own new moves, his own ideas about what it means to win and lose, his own battle system, and so on.

That's what I can think of right now. It does seem that the kids who get into Pokemon *really* get into it, and it adds so much to their lives and their learning. The creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajeri, is such an aware observer, and I think that's why it appeals so deeply to many kids.

Amy (arcarpenter)

Jenny Cyphers, October 2010:
Pokemon is one of those things that can lead to everything else in the whole wide world! It amazes me all the time just how much Pokemon has impacted our lives in so many positive ways. There is so much learning in Pokemon, just the game itself has strategy, math, memorization, art, story, and just so much to it. The way it works though, is that Pokemon will lead a person's thought to another thing, and another experience can be related to Pokemon. A kid can watch a youtube video and catch a reference to Pokemon, get it, and connect it to something else. All those little connections happen all day long, every day. The more a kid can experience that and grow and change and learn and add to it, the more they will know and relate to the world. I can see how Pokemon is at the base of EVERYthing that my older daughter knows and loves, from loving animals, to being a vegetarian, to anime, to horror movies, to makeup, to costuming, to cutting hair, to ALL of it. It left a trail of ideas that I can follow all the way back to when she was 4 and first started watching Pokemon.

Pokemon is just one thing a kid could have a passion for, it could happen with anything. A while back, we did this brainstorming for fashion... here /connections/design The idea is also related to this: /connections/

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