One year after its release, why am I still playing Pokemon Go?

I don't have a Pikachu t-shirt but I guess I'd have to call Pokemon Go a hobby.

I don't have a Pikachu t-shirt but I guess I'd have to call Pokemon Go a hobby.

OPINION: This week, headlines are full of weather woes - Wellington's being battered by "wild wind", roads are impassable in various Passes, and Southland awoke to a snowy cold snap.

This time last year, though, a different type of storm was raging across New Zealand: a technological tempest in the form of Pokemon Go.

News reports here and abroad blustered with tales of a "frenzy". Players were stabbed, mugged, and murdered in dangerous neighbourhoods. They crashed cars into schools and fell into ditches. Most chilling of all, they found themselves trapped at the Brooklyn wind turbine. All in pursuit of those pesky pocket monsters. 


And then, the storm died out. A month after its release, the game had lost a third of its daily users, and reports questioned why its popularity had fizzled. A year after it was launched, technology website Wired is asking: Who still plays Pokemon Go?

People are always surprised when I tell them I count myself among this dwindling cohort, long after even the nerdiest nerds have stopped. Each time, it feels like I'm disclosing some sort of unusual but benign medical condition, like harbouring a third nipple. The standard reaction is one of delighted incredulity. I myself am never sure whether I'm embarrassed, or amused.

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I have no prior history of gaming. And yet, I've been playing Pokemon Go almost daily for a year.

I have no prior history of gaming. And yet, I've been playing Pokemon Go almost daily for a year.


As a 26-year-old gal with a full time job and a general preoccupation with most of the minutiae that comes with being a Millennial, I don't exactly fit the assumed profile of an avid Pokemon Go player. I feel I'm qualified to comment on this: in the same way junkies recognise other junkies, I can spot Pokemon Go players from a distance. They're almost always young teenage boys, and they're almost always wearing hoodies.

Perhaps the more interesting question is not who is still playing, but why.

I've often pondered where my continued interest in the game springs from, when so many who were seemingly primed for superfandom soon gave it up. (A former flatmate who used to run the Pokemon Wiki stopped playing Pokemon Go within months of its release.)

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My own experience defies logical explanation. I have no prior history of gaming, and I've never exhibited the slighted ability to stick at things I start. I have no hidden talents honed during formative years filled with extra-curriculars. (Any attempt to excel at piano, saxophone, or guitar was scuppered as soon as I was threatened with participation in an end of year concert.) I regularly lament my lack of hobbies beyond "hanging out", "drinking", and "eating cheese". With the exceptions of Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation, I've never even been able to commit to a TV series. 

So Pokemon Go - which I have played almost every day since downloading the app - constitutes an unprecedented blip of consistency on my track record.

Moreover, my dedication to this utterly trivial cause tends to trump any shame I might feel in pursuing it. I play it in Ubers, though I sit in the back seat so the drivers can't see my screen. I have the app open at work, but I surreptitiously reposition my coat over my phone when an editor comes to chat. Often, I'll stand at the self checkout flicking Pokeballs at a Pidgey while a supervisor checks my ID. And I'll trail a few steps behind when walking somewhere with friends, if I'm unwilling to let a rare Pokemon slip through my grasp.

My continued enthusiasm for the game isn't because I'm enmeshed in a tight-knit community of like-minded folk. The only other people I know who still play - a GP and a teacher - offer limited validation for my worthless achievements. Occasionally, we'll send each other screenshots of exciting sightings or captures, or in one case, a confronting scene in which a Mankey appeared to be performing an indecent act on an innocent Sentret. Aside from these sporadic interactions, though, I'm a lone ranger.

A well-thrashed theory in behavioural economics goes some way to explain why I'm still Pokemon Going strong (I've never been good at puns and I'm not about to start now). Why I lie in bed at night culling weaker critters from my collection, why I trawl tech websites reading rumours of upcoming updates, and why I arrive at airports hours early to battle other players at virtual gyms. 

The idea, posited by Arkes and Blumer in a paper published in 1985, states someone has "a greater tendency to continue an endeavour once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made".

Since I created my account on July 9, 2016, I've caught 8682 Pokemon, and evolved 1237. My Pokedex has 222 critters out of a possible 248 (though there are some I'll probably never catch). 

While I've never spent money in the app's shop, I did purchase a power bank to offset the game's voracious depletion of my phone battery. 

There's nothing like an early-morning sighting of a rare Pokemon to make you feel really, truly, alive.

There's nothing like an early-morning sighting of a rare Pokemon to make you feel really, truly, alive.

And, time and effort wise, in a year I've walked almost the distance between Auckland and Christchurch in pursuit of the nebulous goal of "catching 'em all".

The authors go on to explain that such behaviour is particularly irrational if it perpetuates an undesirable state of affairs. It's why couples who've been married to plonkers for decades don't get divorced, why employees stay in jobs they hate, why movie-goers endure bad films until the credits are rolling: they've invested too much emotion, energy and time to give up now. 

But, aside from the fact this hobby - I guess you'd have to call it that - makes me look like a loser and/or freak, it has no detrimental effects I've noted as yet. I walk to and from work, so I have an least an hour a day to dedicate to the game that I wouldn't be spending doing anything else. Playing the game also makes those walks more entertaining - there's nothing like an early-morning sighting of a Togetic to make you feel really, truly alive.

That said, I not infrequently head out the door with no other purpose than to add to my Pokemon collection. The prevalence of creatures or lack thereof has given me new appreciation for some cities (Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Melbourne), and enhanced my disdain for others (Christchurch and Canberra, I'm looking at you). 

So as long as there are levels to attain, medals to earn, and eggs to hatch, as long as those final few Pokemon elude me, it's likely I'll keep playing. As Arkes and Blumer put it: "This sunk cost promotes lingering until the bitter end." 

 - Stuff


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