2017-05-17

Pokémon GO types rant

I want to start by saying that I do enjoy the game overall. The data usage is basically negligible as long as you get game updates through wifi. It helps motivate me to do some of the exercising and exploring I ought to be doing anyway, and honestly enjoy doing anyway once I actually start moving instead of making excuses. There's just something about seeing these creatures from my childhood coming to life... more or less, anyway. And it's free to play!

That said, it definitely has its problems. There's no interaction between players except indirectly through king-of-the-hill-style fighting over gym locations. Status ailments don't exist. Monster spawns are often poorly distributed outside of urban areas. Eevees show up constantly instead of being rare enough that you can only get a single one in many of the games. A number of special monsters remain completely unavailable so far (though maybe that's better than if everyone were overusing them). The app chews through battery charge like no one's business. The interface's responsiveness always seems to stutter at the worst possible times. I've recently been having an annoying problem where all the nearby monsters sometimes vanish for a few seconds before coming back, sometimes several times in a row. Stability remains an issue months after the initial release, especially in the busier areas that would otherwise be the best places to play. The positioning sometimes gets so flaky that it thinks I'm driving too fast even when I'm on foot, or not moving at all. And let's not forget the cheaters.

None of those are my main gripe, though.

Pokémon makes extensive use of a fairly complicated elemental rock-paper-scissors system. Picking the right matchup gives a substantial advantage, while picking the wrong one does the opposite. This, along with the 150+ monsters and the gotta catch'em all slogan, is what the game has always been known for, and it makes up the heart of the battle system. Even the anime references this constantly, though Ash's Pikachu in particular sometimes defies it when the plot says so.

To explain the mechanics in a little more detail, let's pretend for simplicity's sake that all the monsters have the same stats and that all attacks have the same power, so that if both monsters have neutral matchups against each other, they both inflict 100 damage per attack. Striking a weakness doubles that, so if one does that while the other doesn't, that's a 200/100 ratio. Resistances halve damage, so if the attacker with an advantage also has a resistance to the other one's attacks, that's 200/50, for a net 4x difference in damage output. There's also a mechanic called the same-type attack bonus (STAB) that adds an extra 50% damage when the user's type matches the attack's type, so that would be a 150/100 ratio if one has it and the other doesn't in an otherwise-neutral matchup, or 300/50 (6x difference!) when the one with STAB also has an offensive and defensive advantage. Even when the opponent gets STAB too, that's still 300/75, for a 4x difference.

Just to pile it on, monsters can have two types, combining the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Now, if one type resists what the other type is weak against, those cancel out and it takes the same damage as in a neutral matchup, and if both types resist the same thing, the monster only takes a quarter of the usual damage. But if both types have the same weakness, that means quadruple damage. A Tangela (Grass type, resistant to Ground) using Grass moves against a Rhyhorn (Rock/Ground, both types weak against Grass) that for some reason insists on using Ground moves, with our all-base-damage-is-100 assumption, is looking at a 600/75 advantage (since they both get STAB). That's 8 times the damage of the opponent. That should mean an easy win, even if the Tangela is significantly weaker than the Rhyhorn.

From this, I think it's safe to make these statements about the game mechanics:
  • Type matchup is easily the single most important aspect of combat, overpowering even fairly sizable differences in stats.
  • STAB is nice, but if you have to pick one or the other, choosing attacks that strike the opponent's weaknesses matters significantly more. Therefore, you generally want a monster to have a variety of move types, even if they don't all match its type.

But that's in the core games. Pokémon GO works very differently, and not just because the battles are real-time instead of turn-based.

The battle system in Pokémon GO substantially dumbs down the type system. A weakness means only 25% extra damage (instead of 100%), while a resistance gives only 20% reduction (instead of 50%). That's better than nothing, of course, but the effects are small enough that it's not too hard to make up for a disadvantage with better stats. The ideal matchup for single-type monsters without STAB goes from 200/50 to 125/80, or a 1.56x net damage advantage instead of the 4x in the core games. STAB counts for a 25% bonus, so it's also nerfed, but not by nearly as much. STAB on one side gives a 125/100 ratio in an otherwise neutral matchup, or 156/80 when combined with weakness and resistance, still only a 1.95x damage advantage instead of the 6x we're used to. Even hitting dual-type monsters where it hurts isn't especially impressive. The same Tangela and Rhyhorn example as above ends up with a 195/100 ratio—no better than an optimal matchup against a single-type monster, thanks to the Rhyhorn's STAB effectively canceling out its disadvantage of a doubled weakness.

So, in Pokémon GO:
  • Raw stats can easily overpower type disadvantages. Type can give you a slight edge, but it just isn't that much of a big deal.
  • STAB helps just as much as striking a single weakness does. More, actually, since it applies no matter what you're facing. Therefore, moves that don't match a monster's type are more or less useless, and more often than not you want both moves to have the same type.

That turns the whole concept upside down. The core idea of effective Pokémon battling is supposed to be building up a varied team and shuffling them around to suit what you're facing. But in Pokémon GO? Just get a few good attackers, and a few blobs of health for holding gyms, and you can almost ignore the type system entirely. Any monster that doesn't make it into the higher stat tiers barely matters at all. The underemphasis on the type system even makes some entire types effectively obsolete, since monsters of other types with worse matchups can make up for it and then some with raw stats. Take the Grass type, for instance. It should be the best choice against both Water and Ground, thanks to having both offensive and defensive advantages against both, but in practice, a good Electric monster does better against Water, and a good Water type does better against Ground, despite lacking appropriate resistance, since even the strongest Grass types just don't have as much in the way of raw stats as fairly common higher-end Electric and Water monsters. They can't balance things out by inflicting any of the status ailments they often could in the core games, either, since Pokémon GO doesn't implement those at all.

On the one hand, I kind of understand dumbing down types a bit, since the game gives you less control over your monsters' moves and less flexibility to pick what they do in combat. It's not very informative when it comes to helping you figure out which types work best, either. On the other hand, though, I can't help but think they took it too far. Maybe something more like +50% / -33%, leaving STAB at +25% where it is, might work as a decent compromise, and make my poor Venusaurs, Victreebels, Vileplumes (and one Bellossom) feel useful again.

But that's not even the part that bothers me the most.

In the core series, some defender types are flat-out immune to certain attack types. In Gen 1 alone, Normal and Fighting moves pass right through Ghost monsters, Ghost attacks can't touch Normal types either, Ground attacks can't reach Flying monsters, and Electric attacks won't conduct through Ground types. Later generations add to that a Steel type that's impervious to Poison attacks, a Dark type that blocks out Psychic moves, and a Fairy type that... scares off Dragon moves, I guess? Pokémon GO takes those deliberate and meaningful aspects of the type matchup system, shrugs indifferently, and treats them all like simple resistances. Not that the balance was ever perfect, but that's easily enough to throw it off completely, especially since monsters with immunities often have lower overall stats to even things out a bit. Dugtrio, for example, is honestly kind of pathetic for an evolved form, but between ignoring Electric attacks and inflicting triple damage thanks to weakness and STAB, it can still wreck a Pikachu's day. With a heavily nerfed damage bonus and no immunity, though, the only thing it's good for in Pokémon GO is filling in a space in the Pokedex. Similarly, all those underpowered Murkrow I keep struggling to catch exist almost entirely to give Psychic types a hard time, but they're virtually useless in Pokémon GO except to build up your catch count for Dark.

Let's use an Espeon (Psychic) vs. Umbreon (Dark) battle as a specific example. In the core series, the Espeon's best moves won't work thanks to the Umbreon's immunity, so it had better hope it at least has a non-Psychic attack to work with. The Umbreon, on the other hand, will have no trouble beating up on the Espeon's weakness to Dark attacks. The best case for the Espeon, then, is 100% damage (unless it's lucky enough to have Dazzling Gleam from a TM, and even then, that's still only 200% since it's not getting STAB), against the Umbreon's 300%. Realistically, the Umbreon will win that fight without even trying.

In Pokémon GO, though, that's not how things work. Espeon can only get Psychic moves, while Umbreon can only get Dark moves, so weakness, resistance-that-should-be-immunity, and STAB all automatically come into play. But since Pokémon GO eviscerated the relevance of types, the Umbreon can only inflict 156% damage to the Espeon's full 100%. The Umbreon still has the upper hand, yes, but it's not such a sure thing, and nowhere near the curbstomp it was meant to be.

It gets worse, though. Since Pokémon can have two types, some will have one type with an immunity and one without it. Immune is immune, though, whether the other type has resistance, weakness, or neither. At least, that's how it goes when the game respects immunities. But Pokémon GO doesn't. So when an immunity and a weakness collide, they just cancel out. Let me repeat that. A monster that is supposed to take no damage whatsoever from an attack will take just as much damage as a monster that has no resistance whatsoever to it. I can't make any excuses for that. It's just bad.

This wasn't as obvious before the Gen 2 rollout. With just Gen 1 monsters, the only attack type affected this way was Ground, and the only defenders affected were Zubat and Golbat (Poison/Flying), Moltres (Fire/Flying), Zapdos (Electric/Flying), and Charizard (Fire/Flying). The bats are too weak to realistically bother with anyway, and the legendary birds aren't available even now, so unless you're a big fan of Charizard, you probably never even noticed.

But Gen 2 more than doubles the list. Crobat (another Poison/Flying), Skarmory (Steel/Flying), and Ho-Oh (another Fire/Flying unobtainable legendary) all have the same weak/immune combination against Ground attacks. Girafirag, one of the oddball creatures that doesn't evolve, is Normal/Psychic, leaving it with the same problem against Ghost attacks, even though the immunity is the entire point of pairing Normal with Psychic (its only other effect is canceling out the usual Psychic resistance to Fighting). Gligar has an improbable Ground/Flying type combination, which ought to leave it immune to both Ground and Electric, but instead it takes full damage from Electric moves and only gets a small reduction against Ground.

And then we have Wooper and Quagsire, an family sporting a Water/Ground type combination. They look obviously watery, so I kind of get the impression they're meant to bait you into trying to electrocute them, only to find your moves have no effect while their Ground attacks wreck your poor monster. If nothing else, it at least should make no sense to use anything but Grass attacks against them thanks to that juicy 4x weakness. But not in Pokémon GO! Electric won't work quite as well as Grass, sure, but it gets the job done just fine. It shouldn't.

That's a problem. Again, given the differences in gameplay from the core games, I can understand not wanting to negate damage entirely. But immunity can't be treated as no better than resistance, and it can't be allowed to disappear just because the monster's second type has a weakness that ought to be ignored in this situation.

Maybe the gym overhaul that's reportedly in the works will change things.

(cross-posted to http://kwhazit.ucoz.net/blog)

2017-05-04

Confusion, Embarrassment, Humiliation, and Loss of Decency

Let's do semi-local semi-current events.

The Boyertown Area School District, located maybe an hour away from where I live, is being sued over transgender rights, but not by or on behalf of a transgender person, as has happened in numerous places where such rights have been denied. No, in this case, the suit is attempting to squash such rights, as a boy known only as "Joel Doe" claims to have felt "confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of dignity" at what he calls "sexual harassment" and an "invasion of privacy" after allegedly seeing a transgender boy—whom we'll refer to as "T" for convenience since neither an actual name nor an alias have been reported—in the locker room "wearing nothing but shorts and a bra".

So, in short, it sounds an awful lot like Joel was watching other people changing, saw something he wasn't expecting to, and had a freakout over it. I'd say I don't mean to trivialize it, but I don't think I can honestly make that claim. It's sounding pretty trivial from here. On the other hand, I've also seen the suggestion that he doesn't actually care all that much, and his parents just pressured him into this, but since I have no way of knowing either way, I'll make no further mention of that and just comment on the facts of the case as they have been reported.

Let's start with those words and phrases I quoted from the claim. Confusion? Fair enough. Bras don't often turn up in boys' locker rooms, so that's an understandable reaction to seeing one. Confusion, though, is hardly unusual or remarkable, nor is it harmful in itself. Embarrassment? I'd be embarrassed, too, if I caught myself overreacting like that, but somehow I doubt that's at all what he meant. As for humiliation and loss of dignity... how? And due to what, exactly? There haven't been any allegations that T, or anyone else for that matter, was picking on Joel, or making a scene, or watching him change, or even aware of him. Where, then, could any humiliation and loss of dignity come from, if not Joel himself? And as for sexual harassment and invasion of privacy, well, if anything, Joel was the one who sexually harassed and invaded the privacy of T, and quite possibly other students as well, since, by his own admission, he couldn't keep his eyes to himself.

Joel also claims that he's too distressed by the thought that he might encounter someone of the opposite sex to use the school bathrooms regularly. In a way, that's a clever addition. Along with emotional distress, the risk of medical problems from avoiding bathrooms all day is an argument transgender advocates have successfully used in the past. Turnabout's fair play, some would say. But if turnabout's fair play, then maybe it would be fair to tell Joel he should just go see a psychologist about his issues and not expect anyone else to humor him, as those who would call transgenderism a mental illness often say about trans people. Regardless, it doesn't take much thought to realize that it's actually quite disingenuous for someone in his situation to try to co-opt this argument. Joel does not look or, as far as we know, feel out of place when he uses the facilities that correspond to his designated biological sex, nor does he put himself in any particular danger by doing so. Joel has never been barred from using the facilities that are intended for people who socially live out the same gender that he does. Joel has not been treated like a girl or told that he belongs in a room full of girls despite his presumable certainty that he is not a girl. Joel has not been singled out by any rules, policies, or practices. Yet what he is attempting to do, just because the presence of a single person upsets him, would force other people to face all of those things.

Meanwhile, few of the other students seem to have had even vaguely similar reactions. However, three others, who also choose to go by aliases, have since joined themselves to the existing lawsuit. "Mary Smith" was purportedly distressed when she "saw a male student washing [his] hands in the sink", though she doesn't offer any explanation as to why she assumed the student was male, much less how something so innocuous could disturb her so deeply. Like Joel, "Jack Jones" claims he "saw a member of the opposite sex in the locker room with him", but like Mary, fails to make even Joel's token effort to explain why he believed that's what he saw. The way the account of this event reads, with "classmates gesturing and looking at something behind him", makes it sound just as likely that someone was just clowning around and the whole incident had nothing to do with this issue. And "Macy Roe" simply brings up the same vague dread of encountering someone of the opposite sex that all the others profess, without so much as going to the trouble of claiming any incident at all that might conceivably have triggered such a response. This all strikes me as a strange obsession with what other people might have out of sight and out of relevance in their pants, to the point of disregarding anything actually observable, such as appearance, behavior, or anything else that might have any practical significance. And have they all forgotten how little unlocked doors actually do to stop people from entering rooms? Any girl could walk into any boys' facility at any time, and vice versa. Again, I'd say I don't mean to trivialize all this, but I don't think I can honestly make that claim.

Joel also claims that he was not taken seriously and was denied any reasonable accommodations when he approached the school administration about ensuring his privacy. Unsurprisingly, the school district disputes his account of the meeting. In other circumstances, this could turn into a matter of his word against theirs, except that in this case, Joel has left us solid reasons to question his credibility. For one thing, both the school district and Aidan DeStefano (a transgender boy currently attending the school who has, with the ACLU, filed a motion to intervene, and refreshingly isn't going by an alias) insist that the locker rooms have both lockable toilet stalls and curtained changing cubicles that anyone can use for additional privacy. Now, I haven't been to look, of course, but that seems like it would be easy enough to verify, so while I wouldn't argue against additional measures to give more privacy options for everyone, I can't imagine that they're simply making up what certainly sound like privacy accommodations and seem reasonable enough—certainly more reasonable than anything I ever encountered back in high school, when the closest we got to privacy when changing involved avoiding the busier areas of the locker room, wearing longer shirts for a little extra coverage, being quick about it, and hoping no one was watching. Furthermore, even the officially filed complaint admits that Joel was told he could change in the nurse's office, though it tries to portray that as just another indignity. Maybe any accommodation short of kicking T out of the room counts as "unreasonable" to Joel, but if he was willing to misreport something so basic and so easily disproven, that makes it that much more difficult to believe any of the claims he's made about the meeting. Unsurprisingly, this hasn't stopped numerous outraged trans-hostile retellings, or even reports that in theory ought to be more neutral, from taking him at his word.

Speaking of claims that have been made, the school district also reports that T has stated, and faculty has confirmed, that he habitually wears his gym clothes under his normal school clothes, and simply removes the school clothes for gym, without taking anything else off. That would mean he never wears anything less than a full set of gym clothes in the locker room. Yet Joel claims to have seen a student "wearing nothing but shorts and a bra". There are only three ways to make sense of this:
  1. Perhaps, on some occasion, T didn't do as described, and Joel happened to spot this specific student during the brief time of partial undress during this rare occurrence. Keep in mind that the locker room contains, according to the school district, "upwards of 60 students" and "upwards of four supervising adults" during gym periods, and presumably has rows of lockers that would block any one person's view of more than a fraction of those. In addition to that, Joel ought to be minding his own business regardless, especially if he's as concerned with privacy as he says he is. That seems like a lot of unlikely events that would all have to line up, not to mention that I'd be consistent about that sort of thing if I were in T's shoes. Even so, it's still a possibility.
  2. Joel never saw a student wearing a bra in the locker room, is misrepresenting his reasons for believing that there was a transgender student there, and made up the story of his immediate reaction, presumably in an effort to win sympathy for his position. In short, it's possible that Joel isn't being any more honest about this than he was about the school administration not offering any accommodations. I'm not trying to make an accusation, exactly, but when one explanation calls for multiple assumptions that involve unlikely coincidences, while another takes only a single assumption that fits well with known facts, guess which one is more likely to be correct.
  3. Joel did see a student in shorts and a bra, but this student wasn't T at all. Someone else, presumably not even transgender, was wearing a bra or similar garment, maybe for medical reasons, maybe on a dare, maybe in an attempt to get a reaction out of someone like Joel, maybe for the thrill of it, maybe just because. I have to say this possibility intrigues me the most, partly because it would mean Joel was reacting to something that doesn't actually have anything to do with any transgender students, and partly because I would so totally do that if I were a boy in his gym class—though, admittedly, I wouldn't have had the daring when I was actually in high school, and hadn't even heard of transgender as a concept at the time anyway. Which is regrettable for a number of reasons, but I digress. Regardless, if I could be one of those students, though with the knowledge and experience I have now, I'd try my best to get every last non-Joel boy in the class to wear a sports bra, just to underscore how silly it is to me that anyone would jump from seeing a bra to feeling oppressed and filing a lawsuit. It turns out that karyotype can't stop a person from putting on a piece of clothing.

Meanwhile, the possibility of any of the other dozens of students in the room eyeing Joel simply doesn't concern him, somehow. It would be easy enough to infer that, but I don't even need to—the official complaint states it outright: "Joel Doe, Mary Smith, Jack Jones, and Macy Roe do not object to students of the same sex using private facilities with them, and welcomes them no matter how they self-identify their gender, and they have no expectation of privacy from such students" (emphasis added). Based on that, the school could throw T and Aidan in with the girls, and even if they spent the whole time gawking, none of the plaintiffs would care. And if some genetic male—cis boy, trans girl, nonbinary, gay, straight, bi, ace, or whatever—were staring at Joel the whole time he was changing, or if dozens of them crowded around to watch, that would be no cause for complaint either. They could even film the whole thing if they wanted to, and their superficial anatomical similarity to Joel would make that perfectly acceptable to him. That is what "no expectation of privacy" means, isn't it? Yet the plaintiffs do have a problem with people simply going about their business and using the facilities appropriately without paying undue attention to anyone or causing any trouble, solely because of certain biological differences that they're never going to have cause to observe or otherwise interact with in any way. Call me crazy, but if you're genuinely interested in protecting your, or anyone else's, personal privacy, not only does this not make sense, it's completely backwards.

It's also curious that the district administration reportedly hadn't heard anything about any supposed problems until the lawsuit. If this were really about people just wanting to preserve their privacy, you'd think someone would have at least tried complaining to the administration or school board before resorting to legal action, even if they expected it to fall on deaf ears.

Also, regarding the suggestion that Joel use the nurse's office... One of the more common refrains I've seen in comments supporting Joel—the ones that aren't just personal attacks against T in particular and transgender people in general, anyway—asks, with evident indignity, why he should have to be the one to go elsewhere. Well, isn't he the one demanding more privacy? It only makes sense that if you're the one who feels as though you need more privacy, then you're the one who should be offered the option to go someplace where you can have it. Which is all that this is: an option that he has been offered. Despite how the reactions are often worded, no one on staff has demanded, or even so much as requested, that he go anywhere. If he's being treated any differently from any of the other students, it's only because he specifically asked to be. Though, to take a less gracious tack, if you're the only one causing a disturbance, which also seems to be the case here, you shouldn't be surprised if someone does ask you to leave. By all accounts, including Joel's, T has raised no fuss and done nothing improper, unless you regard simply being in the same room at all as improper. The school district evidently doesn't. Neither does a mounting volume of case law. Neither, it would seem, do all but a small handful of the other students. And I honestly can't understand why Joel does.

Maybe Joel and the others honestly feel like they're the victims here, never mind that it makes no sense to me to think so. But let's be clear about something. If looking at someone who's minding their own business makes you feel uncomfortable, the problem is yours.


The Boyertown Area school district has made both the legal complaints they have received and their own responses available at: https://www.boyertownasd.org/domain/1395