Monday, May 19, 2008

Pokemon and Honesty

Lately, it seems that video games are being seen as negative, addictive, bad for kids, filled with violence and totally without redeeming value. We have a different story around here to share.

The boys each have a Nintendo DS. We don't have a game system for the house, tho we hope to pick up a Nintendo Wi sometime soon. Andy usually owns only one game, because his allowance money goes to other things most months. He plays Pokemon, each new game he gets, all the way thru. We've had more games with gemstone names than I can remember. When he's finished with a game, he trades it up (with some cash required) at Gamestop. Dan currently has 4 games, and rotates them pretty regularly. My story today is about Andy, but I didn't want to leave Dan out.

For the record, we've not seen any signs of 'addiction.' Neither boy plays Nintendo to the exclusion of all things. Dan often forgets to bring his to the car, and seldom remembers to charge it. His DS has even gone missing for a day or two at a time, with no distress. They were both without Nintendo after the break-in, for more than 2 months, and life went on. Andy plays his more often, but will happily set it aside to play with Dan, take a phone call from his grandparents, help out around the house, or read a book.

Andy's current Pokemon game is Explorers of Darkness. In this game, players don't choose a pokemon to play. Instead, the game presents a personality profile quiz, then based on the answers given by the player, a pokemon is assigned. Andy has been frustrated by this process. He answers all the questions honestly, and it gives him a Tododile, which he does not want to play. He tried this several times -- the questions change in each taking of the quiz. Always a Tododile.

He explained this all to me. What he really wanted was to be able to choose his own Pokemon to play. I asked if he'd tried answering the questions in the opposite to his genuine feelings. He said that he had once answered all the questions with A, trying to change the outcome. The game gave him a Piplup. I said that was good, didn't he want to play a Piplup? Andy replied, "Yes, I like Piplup, but I can't play him -- I got him by lying. It just wouldn't be right." OH, now I see the problem! Andy is incapable of lying. Really. He's not only the most inept liar I've ever seen (even worse at lying than Gary!) but he will confess to things he has already gotten away with! Andy truly does not have a dishonest bone in his body. Which begs the question, "how did I get this kid?" but that's another topic.

I explained to Andy that it seemed to me that the Pokemon game was designed to profile his personality based on the quiz, and give him a Pokemon he'd enjoy. They were trying to be clever and helpful. They just guessed wrong with him -- his preferences don't fit their profile expectation. They've put him in the wrong box is all. I shared that he does have a few options -- he can answer honestly and accept that the pokemon he's given is the one he's MEANT to play (my friend Susan is of this opinion); he can answer oppositely as a strategy, just as a way to cope with the skewed system in place; he can have fun with the quiz, answering the questions in silly ways and see what comes up until he gets one he'd like to play.

He tried the quiz several more times this way. He'd answer the questions -- I don't know whether his answers were genuine, contrary or silly -- hit the right button, and wait with his eyes closed for me to read to him the answer. Lots of Tododiles, so I guess he wanted to be able to have both honesty and a cool Pokemon. Every so often, the answer would be Piplup, or Charmander, or something else. After a while, he stopped asking me to read the answers. (he can read, just wanted me to tell him in his suspense)

Somehow, he got a Pikachu and he's happy with that, so he's playing the game. At one point, I heard Dan ask "so the Pikachu will evolve into a Raichu?" Andy replied that he's not going to evolve this Pikachu, since he likes it better than a Raichu. I don't know enough about Pokemon to know how that will affect play, or if he can just set that Pikachu aside and pursue another Pokemon he's willing to evolve. I don't know how he got the Pikachu -- did he manipulate the quiz, or did the game finally reward his honesty?

It was interesting to me that, even in games, Andy's not comfortable with inauthenticity. He has to live the life that's most true for him. At the same time,

Maybe it was helpful to him to see that sometimes the system does required selective disclosure and a little finesse.

Or maybe the universe just rewarded him for his honesty!

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