Today is a day filled with shame! I’m so humiliated about the blog topic I want to cover that I feel I should be banned from blogging forever after this week.
But here goes.
I love it. I’m delighted with it being all over the freaking internet and with the way that every time I go outside I can spot so many people playing.
Gah, please save me!
When my partner started playing Ingress, Niantic’s precursor to Pokemon Go, I rolled my eyes on good days and actively railed against the waste of time that it was on bad days.
But over the last week, I’ve found myself squealing over fuzzy virtual creatures and begging my partner to go on walks and drives and adventures to locate more pokemon.
At one point, I even dreamed about it!
I’m trying to keep a sense of humor about this new obsession of mine, but I have to say that there are things that I really admire about Pokemon Go (obsession aside).
The game is coaxing people outside! And not just onto streets or into their yards. It’s actually getting them to explore and be in nature.
From what I understand as a newbie to the Pokemon world, getting gamers out and about has been a goal for a while, but the Ingress technology has made that more possible than ever. This is an amazing development for video games, I think, and people have been reporting about the physical and emotional benefits of being out in nature even within the first week.
The downside is that all of that nature walking requires GPS tracking and data usage. Paranoid me is feeling pretty weird about a game being able to track my every move, and it’s one of the reasons why I resisted Ingress.
I’ve been checking my data usage regularly to make sure I don’t dig myself into a financial hole without realizing it, but more importantly, I’ve had to ask some tough questions about how much access I’m willing to give a game.
For now, at least, I’m going in favor of Pokemon Go. It’s providing me and other people a happy escape from a really stressful and uncertain time. It’s getting adults en masse to play like few other things have been able to do, and that is REALLY GOOD!
Humans need play, both for de-stressing and for stimulating creativity. Pokemon Go is providing a super simple and easily accessible form of fun and mild escapism. While the exercise and nature are, no doubt, contributing to the boost in mental health reported, I believe the play is also a component of that.
After a few days, I noticed that Pokemon Go, like other video games, was triggering the reward center in my brain with small and easy accomplishments (well, easy compared to getting a graduate degree or curing cancer, though I am still pissed that I lost my Gym battle the other day).
That’s also a good aspect within moderation. Having easily gained accomplishments each day is healthy, I think.
That being said, I’m guarded about the hooking effect of the game. Because games can set off the reward center of our brain more easily than other things, one of their pitfalls is forgetting to live actual life while continually seeking reinforcement in a game.
Pokemon Go has conditioning on its side. It operates on a variable rate reward system, promising and delivering a pokemon often enough to keep me excited and expectant but not so predictably that I can figure out the pattern that makes the pokemon appear.
It’s the same way that slot machines work, and this particular kind of conditioning is especially powerful because there’s always the hope that a reward is forthcoming at any moment.
All this adds up to a potentially addictive set-up, not to the social interaction or the adventuring but to the thrill of discovering a pokemon itself.
So the good and the bad, taken together. What do they mean?
For me, I think this game can be an amazing thing for me but I need to be a mindful consumer. I’m striving to enjoy the connection, the adventure, the fun, and the sense of accomplishment, but also remember that it can’t replace life.
I’m actively resisting the pull for it to become all-consuming, taking days off and planning when I will be playing for seriously. When I wake up in the middle of the night wanting to go out searching for Pokemon, I remind myself how the game functions and use those urges as a way to strengthen my own delayed gratification.
I’m also putting my phone down and going for a walk or an adventure without Pokemon Go serving as the excuse. It’s fun!
So while my partner won’t let me forget how much shit I gave him for Ingress a few months ago, I’m really not all that ashamed of my new hobby. I’m cautiously optimistic about the way that it will benefit my and others lives.
P.S. It’s okay if you don’t understand this current fad and find it uninteresting. However, for those who are bitching and moaning about millennials, please just shut the fuck up. I don’t think it’s worth my time to go into all the ways prejudice against millennials is hypocritical or how previous generations had equally frivolous time-wasters (albeit non-digitalized). We all have things we enjoy that others find silly. Let’s not turn that into food for ageism.