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The psychology of Pokémon Go, 8 keys to understand the phenomenon

The psychology of Pokémon Go, 8 keys to understand the phenomenon

May 6, 2021

Pokémon Go, the video game of Niantic and Nintendo for smartphones, has gained unprecedented popularity during the first days of its launch .

The fever that this video game has generated has served, among other things, so that the value of Nintendo shares have increased by more than 25% in a few days. Some stories are still circulating about curious situations created by this application, such as that of some nighttime passers-by who, after explaining to a policeman that they were playing the game instead of dealing with drugs, end up convincing them and having Pokémon downloaded. Go there yourself.

Why are you so fond of Pokémon Go?

What can be the keys to the commercial success of the video game? After all, Pokémon Go is a pretty simple application: allows us, basically, to use augmented reality to explore our surroundings in search of Pokémon that we will only see through the camera of our smartphone. It's simple, but judging by the amount of downloads of the game, it works well.


Here I propose some psychological aspects of Pokémon Go's playable experience that could be contributing to its success.

1. There are almost no rules of the game

Much of the appeal of Pokémon Go is that it's just a video game . It can be understood as a varnish of augmented reality on the environments that we physically travel, inviting us to walk and explore real areas.

More than a game with very specific rules and a plot line to discover, it is an experience without too much depth that offers us light entertainment. Therefore, we do not have to dedicate a time to throw a game without nothing else bother us. Pokémon Go fits into our everyday experiences, and playing it does not require more commitment on our part than we are willing to give. In fact, can be used as if it were an application to force us to stretch our legs during our free time .


2. The perceived low risk

Pokémon Go can be played without paying anything, and this already helps people start playing it . But, in addition, the proposal of Pokémon Go is so simple that the possibilities of which we felt deceived once we have begun to play are very low.

There will be no script changes that ruin the experience, nor will we reach the end of the game without being given the option to continue experimenting, nor the quality of the environments and challenges will unexpectedly decline a few hours after the application is released. Playing the game for half an hour we can get an idea of ​​whether we like it or not, and being free, the ability to start playing Pokémon Go is virtually risk-free (Beyond the accidents we may have if we do not pay attention to what is beyond the screen, while we walk around, of course).


3. The claim of the familiar

Clearly , it is impossible to find explanations about the success of Pokémon Go without highlighting the value of the Pokémon franchise. . Video games, peripherals and products of merchandising of Pokémon are sold practically alone, among other things because their brand is already known even by many people who have never been interested in this type of leisure.

If we add to this the fact that the games of the franchise tend to be valued positively, it is very possible that the images and videos (promotional or not) of Pokémon Go call much more attention than other products of the competition. First, because to be something familiar attracts our eyes , and second, because those memories are more likely to be more pleasant than negative.

4. Addiction to collectibles

The invitation to collect things (in this case, Pokémon) is an easy and effective way to extend the durability of videogames . They make us play more to them because they place us squarely in the logic of the accumulation of elements that can be anticipated: we see other players and characters with better equipment than ours, we imagine what it would be like to have those collectibles that we intuit but do not we have reached, etc. As we know that if we continue to strive under the playable rules we already know we will get all those elements, it is very easy that the idea of ​​continuing to invest time in increasing the chances of winning these "prizes" is very tempting.

On the other hand, using the resource of collectibles inflates the duration of video games in a somewhat artificial way, because it is a very simple and stereotyped way of generating interest: it is enough to design new objects and attribute certain statistics and properties to them.It does not cost as much as, for example, creating original environments with new challenges, or altering the plot of the game to make the story more attractive.

So that, The added value of these collectibles is based on creating small temporary peaks of pleasure when you get a new item , which makes us associate this pleasure with this kind of simple and predictable situations, in a similar way as B. F. Skinner did when teaching his pigeons to play ping-pong. This easy resource is ideal for games free to play like Pokémon Go, since it can be implemented starting from a relatively modest initial budget.

5. Curiosity to see "the other dimension"

Pokemon Go is mechanical and predictable, yes, but it invites us, literally, to see a version of our own neighborhood and of the areas we frequent in which things are different .

In addition, crossing the streets and parks that we identify with our lives from the augmented reality of Pokémon Go during the first days of the game's launch, we are exploring a territory that probably nobody else has seen so far. From the local, we feel part of a kind of world party to open the version of the planet that is in Pokémon Go.

pic.twitter.com/xgLkDyIx2R

- Proscojoncio (@Proscojoncio) July 12, 2016

6. The fever of the social

If there is a way to further benefit from the fact that the video game being sold is massively consumed, it is creating the possibilities for mass consumption to turn the game into a social experience on a planetary scale . Pokémon Go makes this possible not only allowing real players to interact with each other through the game, but also giving them the opportunity to create curious situations with augmented reality, images they can share through social networks.

The possibilities are practically endless and, in the case of a smartphone game, the propensity to photograph and share everything that happens to us is very high. All this, in addition, takes the form of a great viral advertising campaign for this video game , making more people start to try it. Which brings us to the next point.

7. An experience in company

Pokémon Go is not just a social app because it is fashionable on the Internet and social networks. It is also because I start a game alone can make us end up walking with people we just met .

People go out in gangs to hunt Pokémon, gather in parks, meet at Pokémon Gyms, help each other find the rarest specimens ... It is, for many adults, a return to childhood, not because the elements to collect are Pokémon, but because playing with this application is similar to playing as children do when they go out to parks.

8. Fashion

Part of the attraction that Pokémon Go during these days is simply that hundreds of thousands of people have thrown themselves to play it around the planet. From nostalgic millennials who have rediscovered the Pokémon universe they played in the late 90s to children and teenagers that, simply, decide to consume one of the few videogames free to play they have an ambitious publicity campaign behind them, they all have reasons to be interested in a game that, on the other hand, is so simple and shallow that it does not exclude anyone.

All these digital natives they have flocked to Pokémon Go and have begun to share images through the Internet . Images that are recognized instantly as part of the Pokémon franchise and that are a publicity claim in themselves. In this way, the desire to start using the game to join this virtual party is transformed into the gasoline of a new fashion.

Extra: Possible therapeutic application

In this article Psycogaming explores the possibilities that Pokémon Go could be useful to combat mental disorders like depression, anxiety and social phobia. Undoubtedly, a promising line that would give even more strength to the already revolutionary videogame.


Aristotle & Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38 (May 2021).


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