When a new augmented reality game Pokémon GO released by Niantic appeared in July, it instantly became popular all over the world and created what many called a Pokémon GO mania. Everyone was talking about the game in which people were running around the streets, chasing and capturing virtual creatures called Pokémon. Players would simply download the game on mobile devices and switch on GPS, which allowed for the creatures to appear on the screen as if they were located in real-world locations.
The game attracted a lot of attention due to a number of incidents that it “provoked.” Players were getting into accidents and were even ready to risk their lives to catch the magic creatures. People were trespassing cemeteries, memorial sites and private property to catch Pokémon, which led to numerous offenses and arrests. Some players were so into the game that they accidentally killed people or even died themselves. Not all incidents were so gruesome: a 36-year-old man from Russia fell in love with a Pokémon, Ditto, the one that was almost impossible to catch, describing her as the most perfect creature. He even filed for marriage, but one can guess what the registry office’s response was.
In its first week of release, Pokémon GO was downloaded more than 10 million times, becoming the fastest app to attain such a result. The game also broke a number of records and went into Guinness World Records in August 2016: in the first month, it was the most downloaded mobile game with 130 million downloads, and achieved revenue of $206.5 million.
What attracted people to the game so much? There are many other video games but this one seemed to be different. Let’s look into psychological reasons behind the, in some cases fatal, attraction.
- Reality escape whilst still in reality
Video games give people an opportunity to have fun, fulfill certain goals, switch off from reality and forget about their problems. Also, people have a rich fantasy life and often wish there was some magic in, what sometimes seems to be a dull, world. Pokémon GO is the game that managed to integrate well the world of fantasy and reality by adding the physical aspect to the game, which allowed people to run around the streets, use real-world places and situations, and have a sense there was some magic in life after all.
- Herd mentality
Everyone was playing the game, everyone was talking about the game, and surely nobody wanted to miss out on such an exciting experience. This is especially true for children and teenagers to whom a sense of belonging to a group of peers sharing the same interest is crucial and feeling of exclusion is one of the worst nightmares. Pokémon GO, being a multiplayer game, provided the so needed social experience and connection.
The game evoked feelings of nostalgia for the past and brought back childhood memories, since the original version was popular in mid-90s on Nintendo’s Game Boy. As childhood is usually associated with happiness and carelessness, no wonder why the majority of the players of Pokémon GO are young adults: these are the people born in the 90s who remember how they played the game as children and would like to put a hold on their current, adult problems.
As mentioned earlier, video games give people an opportunity to fulfill certain goals. These goals are personal, and the games allow for their fulfillment in a symbolic way. One of the main goals is to win, which is a natural human desire. Pokémon slogan in English “Gotta catch ’em all” illustrates this point well. Overcoming challenges posed by the game boosts self-esteem and appeals to one’s narcissism. Players’ interest in the game is maintained by always keeping them at an optimal level of frustration: the game should not be too easy, so it becomes boring, but also not too difficult, so it seems impossible.
However, after some time, the popularity of Pokémon GO started to fade away. Users began to complain that the game lacked features, that they encountered bugs, that it can be hacked, that it was too repetitive and there were not many Pokémon creatures to catch (apart from the above mentioned Ditto and a couple of others that are extremely hard to find). Many just didn’t find motivation to go outside anymore.
The whole phenomenon was not accidentally named ‘Pokémon GO mania’ as it does remind of a manic episode. Not to go too deeply into psychiatry, a manic episode is characterized by a short period of unusually heightened mood where there’s an increased goal orientation and boost in energy. The person in a manic episode has a feeling of grandiosity, doesn’t feel the need to sleep, and has racing thoughts and ideas. Psychomotor apparatus is accelerated and the person is prepared to be involved in an activity despite the awareness of painful consequences. Such a state causes significant difficulties at work or in social relationships. But as with everything in life, nothing lasts forever: manic episode loses its force and is followed by a fall in interest, disappointment and de-idealization. This is what seems to have happened with the Pokémon GO game. And although the game is still widely played, its glory days seem to have remained behind.