On 12th July 2016, I downloaded a game whereby I could walk round the real world staring at my phone while trying to catch imaginary monsters on its screen. That game is Pokêmon Go and a few weeks ago, on 6th May, I reached the highest Trainer level in the game (at the time of writing), Level 40.
To level up in the game, you collect “XP” by taking part in all the game’s objectives – catching Pokémon, spinning stops, training in gyms and completing raids. The higher your level, the stronger you can make your Pokémon.
I’m not the first person I know to have reached the milestone and I won’t be the last, and this post isn’t necessarily about reaching Level 40, but it seemed like a good time to write a post about what I’ve learnt from playing the game for this long.
I was introduced to the franchise one April Fools Day, when a friend told me that Google were hiding Pokémon around Maps. I found them all. I downloaded Pokémon Go partly because I knew that friend would have done and partly out of intrigue.
I found that it helped me take my mind of things. Even in work now, for example, if I’ve had a crap meeting or I’m annoyed, I walk to the end of the site, catch a few Pidgies and then return to my desk. I’m an advocate that playing games isn’t only a child’s activity. The use of imagination and the partaking in fun whatever its form should not be limited by age, and (within reason) the subjectivity of what constitutes fun should not be limited by anyone.
A technical part of Pokémon Go means that powering up you Mons gives you less value per the resources required every level the higher level your Mon is. The curve of how powerful it gets per level starts to flatten out at around level 30. As such, back when I was a lowly level 18 or so, I decided to spend my hard earned Poke Coins on 25 Lucky Eggs in the game’s shop. Lucky Eggs give double XP for everything in the game, so I worked out that those 25 eggs would take me to about level 32 or so and, well, that was enough.
That was the only time up until that final few hundred thousand XP to 40 that I actively chased levelling up. It just want a goal for me to be able to say that I was Level 40 like it has been for a few people I know. It was more about making sure that I could be as effective as I could.
But, once I got in range of that magical 20 million, I had to get it done. Fortunately it was a Bank Holiday weekend and I’d managed to convince friends not to tell me to put my phone away! Once I felt something was possible, I had to try to get it over the line.
How It Works.
Because of that limited benefit at higher levels, I developed an interest in working out the maths and the mechanics of the game. I always want to know how things work so I can do better, even if I’m sometimes not very good at it. This has probably been the only tangible learning I’ve had from the game – my Excel skills have improved! I always believe, though, that you do things better when you understand them. Whatever your opinions, always understand how something works and how other people get to their opinions.
Around a year ago, the game’s designers changed the gym system and introduced Raids. These Raids require a group of people to take down a strong Pokémon, which they then have the chance to catch. This has inevitably led to organised groups of players, and I think one of the most intriguing things I’ve seen has been to do with these groups and how they interact.
There was an argument in a group I know a few weeks ago. At one stage I felt the need to remind them that this is an argument where they’re tapping a phone screen to make a green dinosaur bite a giant pink cat. As with anything related to games or sport, in the heat of the moment its easy to lose perspective, but also not so easy to see that different people have different opinions about what’s important.
It’s also been interesting to see the difference in players. The highest level player where I play is retired, and he plans his holiday destinations on where he can go to catch region specific Pokémon. There are families and couples. One of the reasons the game has been seen to have psychological benefits is the sense of community it can bring. I’ve met a Portuguese family, an Italian, a paper salesperson, a guy who manufactures hosepipes. I’ve learnt how to try to help someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The complete flip side of the community spirit though, is the cheating. The people who sit at home and falsify their GPS location in order to play think they have their own community spirit and that may be true, but it says unfortunate things for how people now see community as something that exists primarily online.
It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, I’ve learnt stuff.