My first serious relationship ended the day my then-boyfriend reached Level 40, which – to anyone who doesnt play Pokémon Go – is the highest level you can achieve in the game.
I am fairly certain that he expected a different reaction than me throwing in the towel and calling it quits. Among my angry arguments were the fact that he spent “way too much time playing that stupid game” and “for the last time, we are not naming our kid Dratini”. I was so heartbroken I vouched to never touch the game and to avoid anyone who played it.
Oh how the times have changed…
It is the year 2018. I have a working smartphone and decent cell phone coverage. Many of my close friends play Pokémon Go and if you looked up the definition of the word “scoff” on the dictionary, you would have seen my picture next to it.
It was August and the question never left my mind. “What is the point? You chase non-existing characters through every weather, drain your battery and stare at your phone for ages while you could be doing something productive. It is such a waste of time.”
My friend finally had it with me. “Why don’t you give it a try?” They gave me their smartphone and I stared back at them doubtfully. “Try”? – “Yeah. Why not? You might end up not hating it as much as you thought?” – “Me? Not hate it? After what happened with my ex-boyfriend?” I underlined this sentiment with yet another meaningful scoff.
Finally curiosity took a hold of me and I grabbed their smartphone until a while later they politely coughed and inquired whether they could get their phone back. “You like it”, was the verdict and my friend displayed a broad grin. “Me? Like it? As if”. I shrugged it off.
On August 18th, 2018 I finally created my account and was accompanied with a roar of laughter and “I told you so’s”.
It took me little more than three and a half months to get from zero to hero (Which means I am now officially allowed to call myself a part of the Level 40-Club)
Here are the life lessons that playing Pokémon Go taught me:
- Team Instinct eats Glue
To explain this to any non-Pokémon Go Player: at the beginning of the game you have to decide for one of three teams: either Team Mystic, Team Valor or Team Instinct. The names are pretty self-explanatory and each team has its own colour.
The turf war is real in this game. Each of the teams compete in gym battles and raids and the goal is to defend your team’s gym against players of the opposing teams.
I would roughly describe the three teams as follows (take it with a grain of salt):
Team Mystic: If this were high school, they would be the stereotypical jocks. Cheerleaders faint whenever they are around, they are charming, have style and are basically too cool for school. We are dealing with the popular kids, the hot guys, not necessarily A+ students but who needs good grades when you have charisma, right? If this were Hogwarts, they would be team Gryffindor.
Team Valor: If this were high school, they’d be the nerds you copy your homework from. Sitting together in small groups in the school cafeteria, laughing at insider jokes with their friends and not interacting with anyone outside of their inner circle. Always getting straight A’s on every exam, overachieving in every class, never getting laid but being totally okay with it, playing computer games all day while winning against 50-year-old guys at online poker and simultaneously finishing their master thesis. If this were the Simpsons, they’d be Lisa.
Team Instinct: If this were high school, you would feel bad for them. They get bad grades, sit by themselves in the school cafeteria, often forget to shower for days on end, live in their own little world, talk to themselves and generally appear confused, think they are popular but get pitied behind their backs. If they succeed, it’s often by accident. If they were a Pokémon, they’d be Psyduck and if this was “The Simpsons”, they’d be Ralph Wiggum.
2. I am still a tomboy at heart
When I was a child, I was always the girl who would hang out with all the guys. Up to this day I feel more comfortable in the presence of the opposite gender and mostly find conversations with women awkward and forced. I enjoy being “one of the guys” again and I find it refreshing how I am being accepted without any questions asked. I can be entirely myself and nobody cares which gender I am or that playing Pokémon Go “isn’t something a lady should do”
3. Pokémon Go is more efficient at erasing racism, homophobia and ageism than your average government
Nobody cares where you come from. Nobody cares who or what you like or how old you are. The moment you arrive, you are a part of the community with no questions asked. I have seldom encountered a community that is so unconditionally welcoming, open-minded and who lacks judgement about where you came from or what you have done. At the end of the day we all have the same goal.
In November, I went to Gdansk in Poland. I don’t speak Polish and don’t know anyone there, but I said the word “Giratina” in public, which sufficed to have a random Polish guy turn in the street and ask me if I wanted to join a raid. So here I was happily playing with a crowd of people whose language I didn’t speak but who treated me no less for it but welcomed me into their midst instead.
4. The good old days of the playground are back
Speaking of back in the day, when you are an adult it gets more difficult to get to know new people. If you do meet someone, it is usually through work, a pub, someone you know through somebody, church, relatives, parents of your kids if you have kids, mates from college, girls you found on Tinder or friends you know from back in the day when you were younger.
Generally you wouldn’t randomly approach adults just to get to know them in the street. Pokémon Go’s advantage over other games is that you actually go outside into the real world and meet real people. One example would be doing legendary raids together – this means fighting against rare and strong Pokémon that you need at least five people for – or where you meet on Community Days to catch a special type of Pokémon that could be shiny (which means it is sparkly and very rare).
I am usually very socially awkward and always say the wrong things in the right situations. I don’t strike up conversations with strangers for fear of making an utter fool out of myself. When I started playing the game and ventured the streets by myself, I suddenly saw a guy with a Pokémon-themed backpack standing around, looking at his phone as if he was on a mission, so I approached him and asked if he played Pokémon Go. He invited me to come along to my first raid and let me know that our city had a group where all players could get in touch with each other.
To sum it up, I have participated in a fair number of raids and you usually start seeing the regulars. When walking the streets of my city, I would often recognise people from raids and you would say hi to each other or just play together like it was back on the playground when that kid had a shovel and you had the bucket and you decided to just team up.
5. No more Miss Couch Potato
Anyone who knows me knows that I have always immensely disliked sports. If you have read up until now and have still decided that Pokémon Go will probably end up rotting my brain, here are some statistics I have taken from the Health App on my iPhone.
Ever since I have started playing Pokémon Go I have burned on average 750 calories per day and exercised an average of 60 minutes per day, come rain or sunshine (I am based in Ireland, so it is more “come rain” than sunshine).
Before that, I would sometimes have days where I didn’t leave the house at all. I had people ask me if I do it for weight loss, so it’s time for my infamous scoff to resurface because “no”. I am never going to aim for dieting and weight loss just because society tells me to fit into a certain beauty standard. I do it because it makes me happy.
6. Pokémon Go could alleviate mental health issues
If I care about something, I aim to be not only good but the very best. Like no-one ever was, in fact. I not only try to outdo myself but constantly try to beat everyone else as well. Good is never good enough for me. Excellent is a good start, but there is still room for improvement. Maybe I am trying to over-compensate for something, maybe it is due to the fact that I have suffered from social anxiety and depression for years.
I feel like Pokémon Go is the perfect way to channel such perfectionist sentiments that can be potentially self-damaging, because the game is harmless and likely won’t lead to burnout. The worst thing that can happen to you at the end of the day is that your battery is drained, you run out of food and you don’t get enough sleep. It can also be healing because it gets you out of a vicious circle of over-thinking, staying at home isolated and lonely and forces you to get out of the house.
Last but not least, I have had many people tell me that I “dont have a life”, that I should “go and see a self-help group, because I am addicted” (Is it a Pokémon Go rehab? Does it have a gym?) and that “The only reason I levelled up was because I spent so much money, therefore it doesn’t mean a thing.”
I know I am prone to addictions. I also know that I unhealthily obsess over anything and everyone I like and that my brain’s reward center is chasing dopamine like its going out of style on a 24/7 basis.
Here is why being addicted to Pokémon Go is really the lesser evil.
According to my iTunes purchase history I have spent a total of 150 EUR ever since I started playing which sounds like a lot but basically boils down to 50 EUR a month.
I have done the research, and a large pint at your average Irish bar or a large coffee at Starbucks cost 4,50 EUR on average.
Even if you only got a coffee or a pint every second day, you would already be at around 67 EUR a month just for your favourite beverage.
A pack of cigarettes in Ireland costs 12 EUR so even if you smoke just two packs a week, you will be at 96 EUR. Don’t even get me started on other, shadier pastimes such as drugs or gambling.
Let us not forget that Pokémon Go is not a pay-to-win game and you can also get to Level 40 if you don’t spend any money at all. Even if you don’t spend a dime, there is no annoying advertising in the game, it gets updated fairly regularly and the in-app-content that you can buy is actually useful. And at the end of the day, an artist would like to get paid for their music, a painter for their art and Niantic’s servers don’t just pay for themselves either.
To wrap this thing up, now that I am at Level 40, I can embark on a whole new journey. Gone are the days of proving myself to the haters.
I already have a list of goals that I’d like to reach:
- Challenge 100: I would like to have as many Pokémon with the perfect IV as possible
- Gym Gold: I would like to have a golden gym badge for every gym in my area
- Team Valor conquers the globe: I would like to travel each continent and catch a Pokémon and defend at least one gym there. So far I have been to three countries (Portugal, Poland and Ireland), with more to come. I know that this challenge is the most expensive and time-consuming of all but on the other hand it is also the most exciting – and I always need an excuse to travel.
- Maxing out every Pokémon over 90% IV. I never have more than 800 stardust but the Pokémon I have are beasts in their own right. I love to battle and I like strong fighters by my side. Under 90s need not apply
- All the Shinys in the world. It is obviously not something that can be forced or controlled but I will keep collecting as many as I can. So far I have Metagross, Dragonite, Moltres, Pinsir, Quilava, Sableye, Togetic, Mawile, Eevee, Shuppet, Magby, Bisaflor, Chikorita, Aron, Charmander, Nidoran, Cyndaquil, Ponyta, Wingull, Dratini, Beldum, Pikachu and Drowzee. Maybe one of these days I will catch a shiny Magikarp, but I dont think I will live to see the day.