Downloading Pokémon Go was a spontaneous decision.
Half of the classroom’s lights were switched off as my batch waited for our next teacher to arrive. Everyone was busy having their own conversations while my friend and I talked about our midterm grades for Statistics. She was fairly certain that she would get a particular score, and when I asked why, she said, “I can feel it. That’s why I was Team Instinct in Pokémon Go.”
One thing led to the next, and all of a sudden, I gained twenty levels of experience in a game I haven’t played for years. I can’t really say that I’m surprised by the addiction that came over me. I was stressed, in need of a break, and like most people, I coped by escaping into a new reality. What was fascinating to me though was that Pokémon Go wasn’t any ordinary escape.
“It’s time to get moving—your real-life adventures await!”
I believe that human beings have always pursued “authenticity”.
Back in the day, the Greeks were obsessed with rational inquiry, always wondering why society was like this and that. This inherent curiosity clearly never left us because until now, we always want to know what’s real and what’s not. Why else do we condemn the insincere and pretentious? Why else do we make certain that our purchases aren’t rip-offs or scams? That’s why doctors are supposed to be trustworthy. That’s why films are praised when they represent something close to home. It’s human nature to search for the real and look for what’s credible in order to avoid being a victim to fraud.
Despite the magnetic attraction that truth has on us, one of our favorite defense mechanisms seems to ironically be escapism. Sigmund Freud himself said, “[Humans] cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction they can extort from reality.” Essentially, he was saying that escapism is a necessary part of the human experience because the real world doesn’t provide enough contentment*. When life hits a rocky road, we tend to ignore the rocks altogether even though this doesn’t change anything at all.
*This is to say that escapism isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s a way of coping, and it can actually help as long as it isn’t taken too far.
The conclusion? Humans are living contradictions. We want the honest and raw, but we’d rather take pills of deception if we think the real could be better.
It’s this exact contradiction that paved the way for Pokémon Go to skyrocket into a cultural phenomenon. The whole appeal was that players could see and catch Pokémon in real life, and the only way to progress in the game was to interact with their actual world. In his Forbes article, JV Chamary perfectly explains why the game was special and successful: “...innovative, award-winning gameplay mechanics that use Augmented Reality (AR) technology -- superimposing computer-generated information over your physical surroundings -- to put virtual creatures at real-world locations.”
The key term in his statement is “augmented reality,” which is defined to be “an enhanced version of the real physical world.” Most games were addictive because they allowed us to detach from reality through manufactured images on a screen. Players could end up in dystopian worlds, apocalypses, kingdoms of fantasy, cities of the future, and the like. Meanwhile, Pokémon Go provided a unique type of getaway by giving consumers a literal illusion of reality. Everyone knew that pocket monsters weren’t real, yet this game made them as real as they could get. This collision of fantasy and reality hit the sweet spot in between the two things that humans constantly chase after: authenticity and escapism.
However, all this does raise a valid question. If the game landed a perfect bullseye in what would appeal to us the most, why did it ever fall off its pedestal?
Well, Pokémon Go may have lit a spark in the heart of mother Earth, but there is no such thing as an eternal flame. In 2016, the game was limited to catching Pokémon from the first generation and having gym battles. There wasn’t much else. It’s no surprise that it only took a couple months for people to exploit every available feature. Once that happened, the magic of the illusion disappeared. What was once a better reality became a reality that could be better, one that needed more to satisfy the desires of the players. When the developers couldn’t keep up with the demand, the general population lost interest.
Loyal fans though continue to keep their Pokémon dreams alive up to this day. Screen Rant reported that “as of June 2022, data shows Pokémon GO has an estimated 80 million players monthly.” Now, Pokémon from pretty much every generation can be found next to your nearest McDonald’s, and players can go beyond gym battles by taking part in raids and challenging members of Team Rocket.
Personally, I’d say that everything that made the game special before still makes it remarkable today. It’s even better now considering all the new features that allow players to further interact with others and the environment. Although this may be the case, it’s a little too late for the game to ever reach the popularity it once had. When an illusion is broken, people find something else to escape into. The majority just doesn’t look to Pokémon Go for relief anymore, and that’s okay. This doesn’t mean that the fire is burnt out. The spark is still there, at least for those who wish to ignite it.
By playing Pokémon Go, people can still live life while putting a filter on it at the same time. That’s why being in school feels strangely better when I open up the game on my phone. After all, I get to walk through the halls of education not only to learn, but to catch ‘em all.
Chamary, J. (2018, February 10). Why 'Pokémon GO' is the world's most important game. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2018/02/10/pokemon-go-science-health-benefits/?sh=6d96223f3ab0
Hayes, A. (2020, December 2). What is Augmented Reality (AR)? Examples and uses. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/augmented-reality.asp
Kalia, S. (2021, June 3). Escapism is a way to cope under stress. But it can also become a tool for self‑deception. The Swaddle. Retrieved from https://theswaddle.com/escapism-is-a-way-to-cope-under-stress-but-it-can-also-become-a-tool-for-self-deception/
Shinkle, K. (2022, June 11). How many people still play Pokemon GO in 2022. Retrieved from https://screenrant.com/pokemon-go-active-players-how-many-popular-2022/