Tortoise Tuesday: A Tutorial in Orienting

I have played a lot of Pokémon. 

Not just as a little kid, but also as a middle schooler. And maybe also as a high schooler. And then possibly again during freshman year of college—hell, my entire R3 was about Pokémon! And now as a second-semester post-secondary school sophomore, I’ll probably ask my parents to ship me my old 3DS from home so I can play some more Pokémon over spring break instead of speedrunning all of the internship applications that I’ve been neglecting for the past few months. 

The Pokémon video game series is great. From its first release in 1996 to its most recent in January 2022, the franchise has been blessing the world with generations of entertainment for people of all ages. Each game has its own storyline, characters, settings, and Pokémon, which are creatures with mythical powers that inhabit the world. But one of the mechanics that is always central to and consistent across each and every Pokémon game is catching Pokémon. 

That’s why every Pokémon game will give you a tutorial for it. 

So every time I start another game, I always get pawned off to some unmemorable NPC1 who holds my hand through the process of catching Pokémon even though I’ve been (metaphorically) kicking ass and taking names and doing exactly what the tutorial is ‘teaching’ me before the NPC was probably coded into existence. The tutorial doesn’t even take that long—maybe a minute at max, with all the button-mashing I’m doing to get it over with. But it’s boring, repetitive, and unnecessary, and it gives me a window during which I have the time to contemplate whether or not I should just go fill out those internship applications.

I can only feel relief when the NPC is done with their spiel and I’m finally free to frolic around and create chaos and save the world. To me, having an unskippable tutorial for catching Pokémon seems more like an inconvenience than anything remotely helpful. But then again, I’ve been playing Pokémon for years. The tutorial certainly seems useful for a person who is completely new to Pokémon; after all, catching Pokémon is a necessary tool for players to progress in the game.

In a way, this Pokémon catching tutorial is reminiscent of orienting. Imagine: you’re an author. You’ve been in the weeds for weeks, months, digging your hands into the dirt and bringing your discoveries to light. You’ve been analyzing your evidence, stringing connections and bridges like no one has ever seen, and you’re ready to share what you’ve learned with the rest of the world. Your audience wasn’t with you when you were picking out a topic. They weren’t with you when you were getting acquaintanced with your scholarly sources. They weren’t with you when you were trying to parse out and piece together definitions of key terms. 

It might seem boring and repetitive to you to provide orienting. But it’s important to remember that your audience is as unfamiliar with your work as you were when you first started, and they didn’t have the weeks or months of experience to get to know your topic like you do. Orienting doesn’t have to give everything away, but it should at least provide readers with the necessary knowledge that is required to understand and engage with your work.

1a non-player character, or any character in a game that is not controlled by a real person

–Emily Wu, ’24