No prizes for guessing what these folks at a public park in the centre of Hanoi are doing. Yes, the Pokemon Go craze has spread far and wide. Photo: AFP
It's repetitive. The 'game play' is puerile. But it does cast a spell on players.
Malaysia, a plague has just arrived in your land and, if the rest of the world is any indication, it will infect every corner of your society. I’m talking of course about the infectious tyranny that is Pokemon Go. Really.
This is a game with very little in actual game play. You throw Pokeballs at Pokemon that spawn seemingly all over your neighbourhood, on your friends, and even in your own home. You capture them to fight other Pokemon, then you wash, rinse, repeat.
The battle aspect comes down to swiping right and tapping your screen a bunch of times. It’s not exactly the most nuanced or skilled or even fun game play in the world but yet, Pokemon Go has taken over the world.
I didn’t quite understand it until it arrived in Hong Kong, but suddenly on the street people were face down in their phones even more so than usual. And whenever I snuck a look there was a little critter bouncing around on their screens that they were trying to capture by tossing Pokeballs at it.
Silly. Ridiculous. So of course, yours truly had to try it.
And of course, yours truly got addicted just like everyone else.
Really, the game should be called Pokecrack or something a little more indicative of its addictive nature. Walking the dog at night, I seek out the local gyms – Pokemon Go locations where you can train or battle other Pokemon, but only at certain locations in the city – see, that’s why it’s got the “Go” in its name, this isn’t a game you can play from home – and at all these locations, even at midnight, I find people milling around in their pyjamas outside, with their faces stuck to their phones. Me included.
I went to a bar to meet a friend the other day and of course we started hunting Pokemon while there, which quite a few others were already doing. On the way out to the pay the bill the barkeep invited us back on Saturday because they would be “buying lures all day to attract more Pokemon”. Yes, Pokemon is now a way to attract people to your business.
Pikachu, I choose you.
But why is this game so addictive? I just said the game play was infantile. So simple that it boggles the mind. And it is. But everything in Pokemon Go centres on the rewards of new and exotic Pokemon and levelling up.
Basically it’s a game that hinges on the Random Reward Schedule.
The Random Reward Schedule is a tenet of behavioural psychology. It’s a form of reinforcement. Reinforcement, of course, “strengthens an organism’s future behaviour whenever that behaviour is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus”. That’s a mouthful.
Basically, what it’s saying is that you will continue to do a thing if you get positive feedback.
This all goes back to the research of B.F. Skinner, who noted that the variable reward schedule or the random reward schedule resulted in the most compulsive and addictive behaviour in mice. Basically, mice were trained to press a lever that would dispense treats.
The mice that were rewarded with a treat every time were less inclined to keep pressing the lever, than the mice that were rewarded with a large treat at random intervals. The idea being that when a mouse thinks there could be a nice reward just around the corner, it will keep performing the same action.
The same goes for humans.
In Pokemon Go you’re constantly checking for Pokemon appearing in your vicinity. Most times they are common ones like Pidgeys or Caterpies, but every once in a while, you find something exciting like a Vaporean or an Electabuzz. And yes, I know how nerdy this sounds right now. Those rare and exotic Pokemon are just like large treats to a mouse.
The random reward schedule is linked to the Hook Model which is a technique employed by social media and mobile game designers and, of course the designers of Pokemon Go. Its mission – the name gives it away – is to hook you.
It goes beyond simple reinforcement of behaviour; it’s all about creating habits so that we’ll continue doing something the designers want us to do. In this case, it’s to continue searching for Pokemon and hopefully spend a few of our hard-earned dollars for gear that will help us do just that.
Pokemon Go also employs another aspect of the model, and that is our need to hunt. In the evolutionary sense, we are hunters, hunting for food in the wild. Pokemon Go employs a tracking system to find those rare and exotic Pokemon so that we are literally hunting down little virtual critters. All. Day. Long.
But we’re not hunting for sustenance, now we’re just hunting for the sake of hunting. Our genetic urges are misfiring all over Pokemon Go.
And knowing that I’m being manipulated on the most fundamental level by this game, I’m still checking my phone periodically to see if any rare Pokemon have showed up. And it’s not even fun.
So what to do, now that Pokemon Go has come for … to us? It really depends. It does make you walk more, and it can make your daily commutes a little more enjoyable (depending on your definition of enjoyable) – but if you don’t like having your face stuck in your phone, then you’re better off treating Pokemon Go like drugs, and not even trying it.
Catch Jason Godfrey on The LINK on Life Inspired HD (Astro Ch 728).
More addictive than other games
CATCHING virtual critters on Pokémon GO has a tendency to be more addictive than other online games.
Experts say the risk of being addicted to the highly-popular game is increased because it is a feast for the senses.
This is especially since it is an augmented reality game, which requires players to have a live direct or indirect view of their physical surroundings.
“The risk of addiction is increased as there are multiple sensory bombardments that sustain playing Pokémon GO.
“Such sensory bombardments are continuous, leading to pleasure and satisfaction highs once players level up in the game and are motivated to continue,” explains Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat.
She says this can be dangerous as it makes individuals dependent on the game for pleasure or happiness and some people may confuse the two.
“It could also lead to despair when the game is concluded, when they experience problems, or when a level objective could not be met.
“These are similar responses that an addict experiences. Normal functioning is disrupted, the least being in terms of sleeping and eating patterns,” Dr Geshina says.
Other aspects that could be affected are family interaction, work-life balance, carrying out responsibilities and daily tasks.
Dr Geshina finds that there are pros and cons to playing the game.
“On one hand, players will get more physical exercise, apply problem-solving skills, and have some social interaction when they meet other players in real life,” she says.
But on the other hand, too much focus on their phones may narrow their perception, leading to selective attention on the immediate environment to fulfil the needs of the game rather than a genuine appreciation of the outdoors.
“Social interaction may be limited to brusque questions of where the characters are, rather than polite or pleasant queries to initiate meaningful conversation,” says Dr Geshina.
She also notes that there is also a possibility that players, especially children, will be unable to separate between reality and the game as it blurs the lines and makes players a living game avatar.
Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president and consultant psychiatrist Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran says people are generally eager to embrace new technology and will surely warm up to augmented reality games like Pokémon GO.
Describing the game as “taking it one step further”, he says one positive point of the game is that it can motivate people to get out more and connect with others with common interests.
“This is particularly relevant to people with introverted personalities and those suffering from depression.”
Dr Andrew, however, points out that the game can be a double-edged sword and could also work negatively in making people more engrossed in their phones.
“Ultimately, technology must be embraced for the right purpose – be it for recreational, therapeutic or competitive purposes.
“Technology can also be harmful, destroy interpersonal relationship, affect social cohesion, blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and cause confusion between reality and the virtual world.
“Knowing how to embrace technology in a balanced manner is the answer,” he says.
Sources: The Star/Asia News Network