I played my first game of Pokémon—the popular RPG—in 1998 or 1999, on a berry Game Boy Color. This version (see box below) was not my last. If you don’t know the game (or any of its versions) and/or wish to get through life without knowing anything about it, feel free to skip ahead to the part of this post where I talk about writing (the bold text below). But I still refer to Pokémon. (Ya win some, ya lose some, huh?) Meanwhile, I’ll continue providing an extremely quick overview of the world of Pokémon.
Many evolutions of the game (as well as the handheld game console) have come and gone since I first discovered it. If you’ve played any version of it, you know the object: travel to various cities catching, training, and sometimes trading Pokémon—little creatures classified by type (water, fire, poison, electric, rock, normal, fighting, ground, psychic, ice, bug, grass, ghost, dark, steel).
Pikachu, an electric Pokémon
You train your Pokémon by having them fight other Pokémon. In this way, they advance in level (1 [though many start at level 3—6] to 100). At certain levels, Pokémon evolve and gain new abilities (like kids in our world; alas, you the proud trainer have nothing to mount on your refrigerator).
In your goal of becoming the best trainer in the game, you learn that certain Pokémon types are more effective against others. Also, you’re often challenged by trainers who trash talk you until you school them by having your Pokémon beat theirs. (Take that! My kid’s better than yours!) You also earn money for these battles. Sweet!
In some versions of Pokémon, you have a rival—a friend from your town—who challenges you to several battles to test your ability as a trainer. Isn’t that what friends are for?
Various villains (Team Rocket; Team Plasma; scientists and grunts working for these organizations) serve as the external threat with their nefarious plots to rule over Pokémon. They say things like, “Mwwhaha! No one can stop me!” or “I’ll take you down and take your Pokémon!” Priceless.
You can’t run when challenged by any of these individuals. Your only option is to fight. Your Pokémon aren’t invincible, however. Sooner of later, they’ll lose a battle. If that happens, you have to get them the help they need.
As you travel, you learn to replace weaker Pokémon with stronger ones in your party or from the wild. (You carry six Pokémon at a time.) For example, let’s say you have Pokémon at level 18 or so and you arrive at an area of the game inhabited by level 31—35 Pokémon. A good strategy would be to replace your lower level Pokémon with those at a higher level—if you can catch them.
At certain points in the game, you will face the challenge of eight gyms and their gym leaders in order to receive badges. These badges are benchmarks in the game to test your strength as a trainer. The ultimate test comes toward the climax of the game when you face the Pokémon League challenge and take on the Elite Four—the best trainers in the land. You can’t get to the Pokémon League without the eight gym badges. Once you take down the Elite Four, the game sometimes provides still another trainer you have to beat—a trainer who also beat them in order to become the champion.
Anyway, I won’t go into all of the aspects of the game, like the challenge to catch every kind of Pokémon, the Pokédex, the moves you can teach your Pokémon, and so on. After all, some versions of the game come with a 400+-page walkthrough guide. Besides, if you made it this far in the post, you’re probably wondering, What on earth does all of this have to do with what she learned about writing? Ah, young padawan, it’s simple:
Catching and training Pokémon—this is the drafting phase of writing. At the beginning of the game, a vision is cast: what you need to do to win this thing. You are the only one who can do it. Anytime you tackle a piece of writing, you catch the vision for what needs to be done, and you continue on the journey until it is done. Whether you’re a plotter who works by outline, or a pantser who develops the story as you go, your draft goes through an evolution—sometimes several.
Of course, the Pokémon represent the characters—the ones you develop until they’re at their highest level. You go along with them on this journey, sharing their victories and defeats. But Pokémon also represent the words you choose to give your story life. The “catch them all” goal of the game is the goal of a discovery draft. In this phase, you’re just trying to get the story written, without worrying so much about how it sounds. You’re discovering the story as you go.
Switching and trading Pokémon—this is the revision process. You switch the order of or delete scenes, evaluate chapters, trade weaker verbs for stronger, or delete dead-weight characters to make your manuscript ready for the big league—submission to an agent or publisher.
Team Plasma and other villains not only represent the conflict necessary in a good story, they also represent your inner editor—always ready to trash talk you and get you to doubt. You can’t avoid this battle. Sooner or later, you have to fight in order to move forward. But the gym leaders represent your beta readers. Their purpose is to help you hone your manuscript. Listening to wise advice, discerning which comments to implement or discard—that’s all part of becoming a stronger wordsmith.
The most important thing I learned while playing Pokémon is to have fun. Same with writing. If it’s not fun, why do it?