The Psychology Of Pokémon Go, 8 Keys To Understanding The Phenomenon

Why is Nintendo’s new mobile game being so successful?

Pokémon Go, Niantic and Nintendo’s video game 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 even circulating about curious situations created as a result of this application, such as that of some night walkers who, after explaining to a policeman that they were playing the game instead of dealing with drugs, end up convincing him and causing him to download Pokémon Go right there.

Why are you liking Pokémon Go so much?

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

Here I propose some psychological aspects of the Pokémon Go 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 is hardly a video game. It can be understood as a veneer of augmented reality on the environments that we physically travel through, inviting us to walk and explore real areas. 

More than a game with very specific rules and a story line to discover, it is an experience without too much depth that offers light entertainment. Therefore, we do not have to spend time playing a game without anything else bothering us. Pokémon Go builds on our everyday experiences, and playing it requires no more commitment on our part than what we are willing to give. In fact, it can be used as if it were an application to force us to stretch our legs during our free time.

2. Low perceived risk

Pokémon Go can be played without paying anything, and this in itself helps people to start playing it. But, in addition, the Pokémon Go proposal is so simple that the chances of us feeling cheated once we have started playing are very low. 

There will be no script twists to ruin the experience, nor will we reach the end of the game without being given the option to continue experimenting, nor will the quality of environments and challenges unexpectedly decline within hours of launching the app. Playing the game for half an hour we can get an idea of ​​whether we like it or not, and since it is free, the possibility of starting to play Pokémon Go is practically free of risks (beyond the accidents that we may have if we do not pay attention to it to what is beyond the screen, as we walk around, of course).

3. The claim of the familiar

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

If we add to this the fact that the games in the franchise tend to be valued positively, it is very possible that the images and videos (promotional or not) of Pokémon Go attract much more attention than other products of the competition. First, because being 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 video games. They make us play them more because they place us fully 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 that 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 video game to make the story more attractive.

Thus, the added value of these collectibles is based on creating small temporary peaks of pleasure when a new item is obtained, which makes us associate that pleasure with these types of simple and predictable situations, in a similar way to how  BF Skinner did. when teaching your pigeons to play table tennis. This easy resource is ideal for free-to-play games like Pokémon Go, as it can be implemented with a relatively modest starting budget.

5. Curiosity to see “the other dimension”

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

In addition, touring 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 territory that possibly no one else has seen so far. From the local, we feel part of a kind of world party to inaugurate the version of the planet that is in Pokémon Go.

6. The fever of the social

If there is one way to benefit even more from the fact that the video game that is being sold is massively consumed, it is by creating the possibilities for this mass consumption to turn the game into a social experience on a planetary scale. Pokémon Go makes this possible not only by allowing real players to interact with each other through the game, but also by giving them the opportunity to create curious situations with augmented reality, images that 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, moreover, takes the form of a great viral advertising campaign for this video game, causing more people to start trying 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 starting a solo game can end up hanging out with people we just met.  

People go out in gangs to hunt Pokémon, meet 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 who go out to the parks do.

8. Fashion

Part of the appeal of Pokémon Go these days is simply that hundreds of thousands of people have jumped to play it across the globe. From nostalgic millennials who have rediscovered the Pokémon universe they played in the late 90s to children and teenagers who simply decide to consume one of the few free to play video games that have an ambitious advertising campaign behind them, everyone has reasons to be interested in a game that, on the other hand, is so simple and shallow that it does not exclude anyone.

All of these digital natives have flocked to Pokémon Go and started sharing images over the internet. Images that are instantly recognized as part of the Pokémon franchise and that are an advertising claim in themselves. In this way, the desire to start using the game to join this virtual party is transformed into the fuel of a new fashion.

Extra: Possible therapeutic application

In  this article of  Psycogaming possibilities are explored Pokémon Go might be useful to combat mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and social phobia. Undoubtedly, a promising line that would give even more strength to the already revolutionary video game.

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