Pokemon Battles the Big Three by Bret Callentine

When I was growing up, I loved to play games. When the weather was nice, we played stickball, football and basketball, and when it wasn’t we played every board game available. The game didn’t matter, it was more about the spirit of friendly competition that flowed through myself and my friends. 

While I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the new era of video games has kind of left me in the dust, I’m not ashamed to admit that the nature of my love of games has not faded one bit.  Currently, my favorite is a game I learned to play only to spend more time with my son. Yes, I play Pokemon. And no, I don’t just know the rules, I’ve actually taken the time to learn the different cards and recognize the different strategies. 

At first I was simply trying to help my son at a game he enjoyed, but, truth be told, the game really grew on me. The game itself is a simple routine of attack and defend, but, in my opinion, the real reason for its popularity is due to the creative balance inherent in its design. While some cards are definitely stronger than others, a player’s success is not completely dependent on what cards he has, but also how he plays them. Players become more successful the faster they learn to limit their own weaknesses while exploiting their strengths. And here’s the best part.  After every game you play, it becomes very obvious as to what those strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve played a lot of different games in my time.0 And I’ve never before come across a game where learning the reason for your failure is so readily understandable and correcting it so easily undertaken. Every time my son loses a match, I ask him:  “Do you know why you lost?”  And almost without fail, he can answer “yes”. And with that knowledge, it’s easy for him to correct his strategy or alter his deck accordingly. With very little effort, every loss only makes him a stronger player. 

But the loss is very much a critical part of the learning experience. Without losing, it’s harder to know where you are truly vulnerable.  When he struggles, but still manages to scrape out a victory, he’s much less likely to evaluate his performance, and even less likely to make any real changes to his strategy or deck structure. And especially in a game where new cards are coming out all the time, sometimes the fastest way to get beat is to make no changes at all.

But, if you keep your ego in check and are willing to humble yourself every once and a while you can become a very strong player who wins often and rebounds from loss quickly. Even the best players cannot win all the time, but only the best players learn every time. In Pokemon, winning isn’t everything, and losing isn’t a bad thing.  But in all my years of playing games, I’ve usually found this to be the case.

So why is losing so feared in other aspects of life? Over the past few months, America has been living under the constant threat of one failing industry after another. The housing, banking, and auto industries all seem to be seconds away from catastrophic collapse. A loss, any of which we’re told, could send our economy into a tailspin.

While I’m not dismissing the subsequent hardship that would blanket any community that experiences the close of factories or loss of jobs, I’m confused as to exactly when our social and economic system became so brittle that it couldn’t tolerate the inevitability of market change. And I’m even more uncertain as to how we expect to combat that change by throwing more money into doing things the same way.

I don’t recall anyone lamenting the loss of the typewriter industry. And I don’t remember reading about our government extending subsidies to keep the pony express from going under after the incorporation of the telegraph and telephone. If a restaurant goes out of business, there is usually a reason; the food might be over priced, the service might be bad or the location might cost too much to rent. Needless to say, if the owner doesn’t change his strategy and correct the shortcoming, it would be foolish to think the business would turn around.

Well, if Detroit can’t make money selling cars using its existing business model, then something needs to change. But by spending billions of tax dollars on government assistance, I’m afraid it will be just like watching my son squeak out a victory at Pokemon. I don’t want Ford or Chrysler to fail, but I think as a society we need one of them to fail, to instill in the others a sense of the true magnitude of their responsibility. 

For too long, those who controlled these massive industrial engines have seemed almost complacent in only scraping out a small profit. The company struggles, yet they still manage to win themselves a paycheck, so they see only the net win and are generally satisfied. But since when is the goal of a business simply to stay in business? You can’t make it to the NHL if you measure success only by not falling down on the ice.

When I watched the testimony of the Big Three Auto makers in Washington, I saw concern, but not passion. I saw the faces of men that looked more than smart enough to run a company, but nowhere near strong enough to build a company. And that is essentially the task before them.  Where was the competitive spirit that would have admitted that their company will do better if their competition closes its doors? What I needed to see was the football coach that could inspire his team to fight for prosperity. 

This country is not devoid of the kind of hard working leadership necessary to pull entire industries out of turmoil, I see it frequently in the faces of the kids at the Pokemon tournaments, and I see it in the enthusiasm of the prolific small business owners throughout our city.  It lives in the heart of everyone that remembers the games of their youth, where you cannot achieve victory without the potential for defeat, and a loss is only a failure if you never play the game again.

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Volume 5, Issue 1, Posted 10:16 AM, 01.14.2009