Video games are not a huge part of my life. Books take up more time by far. But still video games made a big impact on my youth and how I develop relationships, not to mention how I learned to develop relationships. And I still enjoy them every now and then.

My first system was the Sega Dreamcast. Ah, the Dreamcast–the world was not ready for you. By its virtues the Dreamcast also became my first access to the Internet. I don’t know so much that I would call it a computer, but I had access to mIRC and the birth of 90s internet. I made some of my friends via Dreamcast IRC, and some are still friends to this day (friend being someone I speak with and enjoy speaking to on a semi-frequent basis, not like how you have friends from your school days, we all know you mean, like, two people you liked then and still like now).

Aside from IRC, the Dreamcast also showed me the world of games like Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, Psychic Force 2012, and (the best game ever, still, fight me on this, I will destroy you) Grandia II. Oh, man! These stories. These were like interactive books. These characters, the world they lived in, and the story. Grandia II had me in tears a few times.

While I dated Serious Boyfriend 2 in university we played Ragnarok Online. I made a lot of friends there. One friend is so close in fact we call each other siblings. He even got licensed, flew down from Massachusetts, and officiated my wedding in 2012. That was also the first time we met offline, although we’d camera chatted plenty while we played games. But after nearly a decade of Ragnarok Online I sort of fell out of gaming.

It wasn’t until 2010 I played my next game. Pokemon Black/White. Now during the American Pokemon explosion I was end of junior, beginning of high school age. And Pokemon the anime was OK, but the game? the cards? Meh. (Also my parents are the no such thing as evolution parents. *long sigh*) So even though I had received a Nintendo DS just before leaving the US I pretty much just used it to study kanji and Japanese. Exciting? No.

It wasn’t until I had been in Japan two years and was teaching English at a junior high school in Ibaraki prefecture when a student came up to me, very excited, and tried in their best English:
“Sensei, play Pokemon? I want to…want to *mumbles* koukan in English…?”
“Yes! Trade! I want to trade Pokemon with you!”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t play Pokemon.”

I felt terrible really, telling this child who had clearly practiced and gotten up their courage to speak English to me, I don’t play Pokemon. But somehow “I don’t play Pokemon” became “I can’t play Pokemon because I don’t have a copy of the game” in the head. The next day I was presented with a copy of Pokemon White, to complement their Pokemon Black. And then, in Japanese, a language I could kind of read OK-ish, I played my first Pokemon game. And I loved it. No. I was hooked!

I still am. After White I went to a used game store and bought every generation of Pokemon prior. What a way to study Japanese. I had to use walkthroughs online a few times, but it was so much fun. And my students! Man, if they didn’t want to/ thought they couldn’t speak English all I had to do was ask if they like Pokemon (or Kamen Rider, that was another way I was studying Japanese. Hello, pretty boys.) and they were off! You’d have the students the teachers had given up on ever saying a single sentence in English go off on a fifteen minute rant about why Kamen Rider Kabuto was more interesting that the current season. Or why Pokemon Soul Silver was more fun than Emerald.

That was the greatest lesson in teaching I ever got. Thank you little girl who gave me Pokemon White, you made me a great teacher. Because from those days on all I had to do was listen to what the kids were interested in at the time and ask them to tell me about it in English. Students with failing grades in English would bust out English dictionaries to tell me about how awesome some play was by some baseball player in such-in-such team last night on TV. I didn’t even need to know what happened or anything about baseball. All I had to do was say “And then what happened?”, “Why?”, “What did you think about ____?”

If any teachers are reading this, listen to your kids. They are constantly thinking and absorbing the world. It may not be the way you expect them to, but “I have a Pokemon pencil with Tsutarja (English:Snivy) on it.”(student-made sentence) is a hell of a lot better than “I have a CD.”(textbook sentence).

It got to the point I would look over the pages and grammar I was supposed to teach, pop them up in shorthand on the board, greet the class, tell them to close their books, and then go through each topic I needed to cover. Grades shot up, attendance and awakeness shot up, and interest shot up. And their faces when they opened the textbook and saw that they had indeed learned these things, but with current Japanese pop idols or sports players or anime or games or whatever. There was happiness and pride at their own comprehension. Anyways, I digress.

Video games.

I don’t play much unless a Pokemon game is released. I’m willing to try Pokemon Ultra Sun only because Guzma is in it, the first in the generation did not impress. But lately I have got my husband to play FFXIV, an online MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). And it’s fun, he can play in Japanese, I can play in English, and we can play together (on weekends when he’s off work at least). I’ve probably been spending too much time on FFXIV lately and neglecting my reading and writing and studying. Bad Serena, bad! But with The Book of Dust just released and The Overneath next month I’m sure FFXIV is going to be taking a back seat shortly.

Still, video games taught me a lot, gave me some important people, and I love them (the games and the people).


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