My Bulbasaur was a level six. If I got it to level sixteen, it would evolve into an Ivysaur. At level thirty two, it would evolve into it's most powerful form, Venusaur.
I played Pokemon Red on the original Gameboy (it was black and white!) while in elementary school, and I probably spent more time researching how to beat the Elite Four than I did practicing my multiplication tables. My strategy was simple - grind to a high level and then lay waste to my digital opponents. What, though, does it mean to grind?
In video games grinding is: "performing repetitive tasks for gameplay advantage." It is a simple strategy; perfect for a little kid trying to catch them all.
Eight gym leaders were obstacles in my quest to become the Champion trainer. I could have gone from one location to another, fighting with Pokemon that were about the level the game designers expected them to be. Or, I could stay in the early levels, kill Metapods, and slowly gain experience until I was über-powerful.
This was not a movie montage where I could fast forward from level one to thirty two. Grinding took hours upon hours upon hours. If I was patient enough, I could obtain my desired Venusaur, and then breeze through half the game until I had to grind again.
Grinding takes patience, attention to detail, fortitude, and the ability to delay gratification. To adults at the time, it looked as if I was wasting my time. When, in fact, I was developing skills that I use in my adult life every day. I just happened to be sharpening those skills using an unfamiliar medium.
Last week, I was momentarily dismayed to see a Fortnite strategy guide for kids in my local Barnes & Noble. Then I chastised myself for being such a hypocrite. After all, I begged my parents to buy me guides to Final Fantasy, Pokemon, GoldenEye 007, Tomba 2, etc. I cannot judge the kids today who want to learn how to become proficient in games for their generation. Especially, when the science of gaming is catching up to what I have personally experienced.
In, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, author Jane McGonial writes:
“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.”
Gaming gave me the opportunity to fail in private without consequence. This was especially valuable in my teenage years when I felt I was a failure at everything. At least when I played a game, only I knew when I failed and I could more easily identify how to improve. I believe gaming tempered some of my depression. It gave me a place where I could learn all the rules, and then use that knowledge to my advantage.
I am a fan of gaming, and I am a fan of moderation. Looking back, I wish my parents had set limits on the amount of time I gamed in the same way I was limited to only so much lacrosse, or so much kickboxing. Extracurricular activities are great, but when stretched out over a long enough timeline, the returns diminish.
Humans benefit from variety, and games are a great way to add something different to your week.
If you are looking for a rather fun game to play on your phone that incorporates great voice acting, platforming, and a fantastic story - check out Thomas Was Alone. See how you can develop a bond with a red rectangle and his friends, and enjoy the experience!
I also encourage you to watch this twenty-minute Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal for a fuller picture of how gaming might lead to a better future for us all.