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Mastering Chemistry Through Pokemon

Julian West | 24 Oct 2011 10:00
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The first year in pursuit of my Bachelor of Science degree was wrapping up and all of my classmates were fearing our organic chemistry final. Organic is often the sink-or-swim moment for premeds so there was understandably a lot of hair-pulling and nail-biting going on. Surprisingly, however, I was quite calm heading into the exam; one might even say exceedingly confident in my abilities as an organic chemist. The reason for this was not excessive studying (a handful of hours), nor was it the aid of a tutor (too poor). No, I learned the secret to mastery of organic chemistry back in the second grade.

If one were to visit a schoolyard during the fall of 1998 they would likely find it exceedingly eerie: no raucous games of tag, the soccer field bereft of any yelping children. Instead of these usual staples of kid-dom, children were huddled together in conspiratorial pockets, earnestly bargaining and confidently challenging while clutching their neon-colored Gameboys. The largest group of these Pokemon-players, of course, collected around the kid with the link cable, as he was the one who allowed all of these brokered battles to come to fruition.


Linked battles, as I soon learned, were quite a different beast than the single-player experience. During my first playthrough of the game I had done as any boneheaded second grader would have: I took my starter Pokemon and repeatedly fought the same in-game battles until finally I stopped losing and won. This strategy, though effective in beating the computer players, was quickly exposed as a poor method when I fought one of my classmates for the first time. I had started with bulbasaur and, as a result, had very little difficulty in dispatching his first Pokemon, blastoise. Being perhaps more wise (or lucky) than I, he selected arcanine as his second Pokemon to face my fearsome venusaur. One fireblast later, I was packing up my lime-green Gameboy and wondering where it had all gone wrong, and if there was some way to replicate his success on the other side of the cable.

Of course the first revelation came with type advantages: grass destroys water but is burned by fire. Such nuance was mind-blowing to a seven-year old. The reason that I had been beaten was not because he had higher level, or better Pokemon. The reason that he had beaten me was that he had used the right Pokemon for the right job. I had built my team on the ideology that any-shaped peg, with a big enough hammer, will fit into a round hole; this idea had been disproven easily. I learned that Pokemon battles could be decided by strategy, and not strength alone.

Soon enough I had balanced my team to include a water type (arcanine-killer), a psychic (way overpowered in Red/Blue) and several others based on that first day I fought. It was once I had more than a handful of reasonable Pokemon that I realized that the paltry six slots allotted for your team was not enough to have a type advantage against every conceivable foe. Here I encountered the second revelation of Pokemon: One Pokemon can learn attacks of more than one type. I taught my gyarados fireblast and suddenly it became incredibly effective against the very grass Pokemon who sought to destroy it. Between these two revelations I built myself quite the reputation around the schoolyard.

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