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Pokemon Go: My Personal Hell

On July 6th, 2016 the bane of my existence and relentless occupation of my attention was released to great fanfare around the world. Pokémon Go was unleashed upon the world, and millions of players could now encounter and capture Pokémon as they went about their daily lives. It was the closest to actually living the dream of inhabiting the world of Pokémon as we could ever get. Yet, how could perhaps one of the most commercially successful franchises in the world debut a new app game without finding a way to commodify the experience? Well if you were wondering that, they continuously roll out new ways to do just that!

Alright, maybe that sounds a bit harsh. I mean, the game has a built-in method to accrue in-game currency. How could it be that bad? I suppose if you want to understand the hellish, capitalist wasteland that is Niantic’s Pokémon Go… then we should go back to the start, and understand the basic principles of the game. Starting off, the game was obviously and clearly built on the bones of its predecessor, Ingress. To shortcut the process of adding a key feature - Pokémon Go’s pokestops - they automatically imported similar features from Ingress and converted them for the purpose of Pokémon Go. Herein lies one of the biggest, and in my opinion, worst game design choices of any game I’ve ever played.

Because pokestops are bound to recognizable landmarks, the further away from well-traveled areas with high foot traffic, the less pokestops will appear. Considering that catching Pokémon and battling uses many items (pokeballs for catching, and healing items or revives for battling) pokestops are a necessity to keep a steady flow of resources. However, due to the current structure, rural players will see no good method to resupply other than going out of their way to a more populated area. Even with the introduction of gifts into the game (a full 2 years into its existence), rural players will still struggle to gather resources or complete weekly streak challenges.

Beyond that, the major function of the game - capturing Pokémon - is also a highly diminished experience the further you go from a town or city. It seems Niantic has been tweaking spawn rates recently, but for a long time being too far away from a town might mean you saw ZERO spawns. Even when they added a guaranteed daily spawn, it was still almost even more insulting. I mean, thanks for the free, often crap Pokémon with low stats… the barest of minimums and it still feels like they somehow disrespect us with it. Recently they also gave us the free daily incense… but how kind of a gesture is it when it lasts 15 minutes, and unlike the paid incense, requires active movement to work? Every freebie is still a highly conditional chore, it feels.

There is so much to complain about with this game, that I could go on paragraph after paragraph explaining why some piece or choice they have made feels incredibly money-grubby. There are fun parts, don’t get me wrong… but it’s when they are fighting to break free under the absolute avalanche of bad design that I gripe. Even my favorite activity in any Pokémon game, shiny hunting, is a total crapshoot in this game. If there is a singular, most damning critique I could utter in one sentence to express my personal discontent with the game, it might be this: there are Pokémon in the game that DO NOT have a shiny form yet.

This to me is absolutely outrageous, and I am personally not convinced there is any reasonable or acceptable explanation for why they can create and implement about 100-150 Pokémon every time they had a new generation added to the game, but can’t ensure each of those Pokémon had their shiny sprite also available. As it stands, Ducklett, a favorite of mine, still has no shiny version in the game, along with some other notable examples: Carnivine, Pachirisu, Phantump, Stunky, and many, MANY, more. I try very hard to be understanding, and from a certain perspective I can see how it might be fun to do special releases of shiny versions around holidays or events… but the game just started to release Paldean Pokémon, which is generation 9 for the mainline games. Why we don’t have a shiny sprite for Pokémon from 4-5 generations before that, is a complete mystery to me.

As I said, there are so many issues that I could continue to rant about this annoyingly addictive game. The issue, though, is it does feel so addictive to play. Especially for someone like me who obsessively taps every spawn around to check for shinies… and then usually will ignore it if it doesn’t sparkle. I want to note that I hadn’t even touched on perhaps the most enraging and upsetting choice Niantic made. During the height of COVID-19, Niantic had implemented some quality of life changes that made it possible to reach farther with your radial area-of-interaction, among other new features too (looking at you remote raid passes). Sometime after the quarantining began to decline and end, Niantic attempted to end those improvements and revert to an older approach to the game.

It’s decisions like that why I call this game my personal hell. Because I can’t quite unhook myself from the game… and so I plod on in a slow grind to the level cap, largely ignoring the Pokémon around me as I search obsessively for sparkles. This miserable game with its plethora of ridiculous design choices still has me in a vice grip. Well, anyways here is your reminder to check your streaks and send/receive your gifts!

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