Pokémon;  So?

Cian White

Five(ish) reasons why the cartoon past of this zombifying nintendo game can be the future for national Biodiversity.

Pokémon Go has come out in Ireland. It’s breaking  download records as the first mainstream success of augmented reality is upon us. Everywhere, millennials are acting out their childhood dreams of catching Pokémon in augmented reality inducing side effects like robbing boats1 (not augmented) and getting fit (unexpected reality). It’s obscenely addictive: Just let me check the front garden; an oddish, useless. (Checks back), oh christ a squirtle!! The possibilities! A blastoise would rule the local gym (throws razzberry) meaning I’d be a bad ass Pokémon master (throws pokeball) and I could give him a cool nickname- *squirtle runs* “FUUUU” (Throws Phone).

I haven’t even got the app yet.

Mainly because I don’t have a phone at the moment, but I’m vainly putting it down to self control. However that hasn’t stopped me watching four hours worth of videos of other people walking around playing the game. Four hours of living vicariously through their every move and looking for strategies: learning the levelling system, which Pokémon are the best, and where to find them. I’m obsessed and I don’t even have the game!


But why this obsession? Only Pokémon and Skyrim have ever drawn this level of obsession from me,  Skyrim is understandable, being the best game ever made (White, 2016). Pokémon seems to be a child’s game, and indeed it is. You play an eleven year old roaming around catching pocket monsters, fighting an evil corporation set to destroy the world*. Not exactly a success inducing storyline. Dare I say Twilight was better (not that I’ve watched it or anything…). There has been no variation on this plot, through all 27 (holy shit there has been so many!)2 handheld games, since Pokémon Red back in late 1990’s. The original games are the 20th best selling games of all time on any platform, being Nintendo’s second most successful game on the handheld consoles after mario.3 So what is so addictive about it, why is it so successful and can this obsession be harnessed into a nature surveying app?

*I’m 21 now, a zoology trained environmentalist and running around trying to stop evil corporations trying to take over the world. Ten years of education makes all the difference…

(Here I enter into a listicle. Don’t bitch, lists are useful things and a great way to break down a concept and make meaningful clear comparisons. It’s not meant as click bate) ((…by which I mean clearly worked))

1) Plot

Terrible. Even as an eight year old I thought it was rubbish. As an adult, I enjoy the movie Notting Hill, so the standard of plot that will keep me entertained is abysmally low. Pokémon’s story does not keep me entertained.

2) Gotta Catch’em All.
The manic obsession to catch’em all never really held much sway with me. I was quietly content to build a nice synergistic team with weird combinations of funny/terrible Pokémon and see if I could beat the game. I always did. It’s too easy! That doesn’t mean other people aren’t poké maniacs. I have friends who would always try catch every species in the game.

This is mirrored in real life by the funny people who call themselves birders**.  Extreme birders are serious people. Say a rare bird, an American Redstart (), happens to crash land in a garden in Kerry, there will be men and women (but mostly men-it’s a competition you see, they can’t resist) from all around the country driving down to that garden, within hours of the news getting out. They’ll call in sick to work, get up at four in the morning, pile all the necessary birding gear into the car and set off on a 500 km round trip without blinking an eyelid***.  All so they can add an American Redstart to their list, (aka their pokedex), and gloat to their friends that they have seen a rare bird.


* Cus bird watching is just too sedentary.

** ie. binoculars, aka pokéballs, and telescopes, aka ultra balls.

***That’s a lie. They do blink. They’re not crazy, they’re just twitchers. A twitcher is like a Pokémon maniac, they’ll rob a boat to chase down a bird. At least it’s not a fictional animal.

As you can see this is very like Pokémon, but with birds.


3) Battling Pokémon

A key aspect of the game is that your Pokémon battle other Pokémon to become stronger, or in the app version, to beat a gym. Battling Pokémon on the Nintendo devices was a tedious task, continually mashing a button until either you, your Pokémon or your opponent, died.  It’s the same on the app. Boring.

Similarly, I’m sure most people who are Pokémon masters would be rather distressed watching two animals fight each other until one dies (faints). It would certainly not be an experience that most people* would enjoy.

*There are some weird people out there and I don’t mean twitchers.

4)Being an Eleven Year Old Being Kicked Out of Home with a Neglecting Mother and Absent Father.


5) Being the best Pokémon trainer and battler out of your friends.

This is where, for me, Pokémon gets addicting. I have sunk probably 100 hours into Smogon, a free platform for creating a team and battling to be the best. Visit at your peril! Now for those not acquainted with battling other people, it may sound kind of lame. But that’s only if you think chess is lame. If you do, I feel sorry for you. Just should go back to twiddling your thumbs as that is all your poor brain can handle! It’s all about strategy and planning.

Now the app is slightly different-  not as much strategy involved. But it is more exciting controlling gyms in your area to be local top dog. The app makes you go out and explore,  searching for strong Pokémon to catch and fight gyms with. People who are usually spending five hours inside on their phone are now instead going on five mile walks (on their phone) just to find Pokémon! This could be the solution to all the western world public health problems!

Before and after Image source

Deep down, the drive is to be the Pokémon master; to be the best in your area. It’s all about competition between the people, and cute/awesome pocket monsters are just one medium through which this is conducted.

But imagine the amount of data that could be collected on the distribution and abundance of real animals and plants if a similar app was developed with photo recognition software, and its eyes on Biodiversity.

Give more points for finding rare animals or plants. Create a levelling system where when you find a new species you get points, say 100 for the humble slug and 10000 for the Irish lizard. With more levels the app can unlock better species that can be recognised: incentive. Create local seasonal ‘gyms’ where explorers get to place their rarest animal or plant that can be ‘battled’ with for rarity: competition. And all the data is fed into the National Biodiversity Centre. Citizen science on steroids. In fact I’m off to the patent office.


1: http://www.irishnews.com/news/uknews/2016/07/20/news/pokemongo-players-steal-boat-to-chase-fictional-creature-612906/

2: http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Pok%C3%A9mon_games

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_video_games#All_platforms


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