The Apokélypse: Pokémon, Addiction, Dopamine and Life

10 Jul The Apokélypse: Pokémon, Addiction, Dopamine and Life

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In case you hadn’t noticed, a game that once ruled the lives of so many of us, is back. Roughly 20 years later, on our handy-dandy, go-everywhere-with-us smartphones.

Pokémon GO, a game that for many of us, would have been a dream come true if we had it in our greasy little hands 15-odd years ago. But, we didn’t, so now we’re stuck with downloading it to relive and reminisce upon our old days, in search for all the nostalgic feels that come with something that once was such a large part of our lives.


Late in the 1990’s, a man by the name of Satoshi Tajiri came up with an idea that would change the world and become one of the most popular franchises ever created: Pokémon. Aka capsule monsters, pocket monsters, little creatures that inhabited the world around the characters within, all with the underlying and overruling theme in the game: catch ‘em all and become the very best, that no one ever was.

pokemon ending

The trading card game came next and was a huge hit in not only my primary school, but schools all over the globe. The TV show cashed in after, further magnifying the fantasy world for what it would be like to catch and train monsters, battling them for street cred.

It was a complete hit, and as we all got older, we moved on, and turned our backs on the 152nd and consecutive Pokémon that were added to the original 151. We all forgot about them. Abandoned them. Until now.


You may have seen it in the news or on the book of faces during the past week or so, but Pokémon is back for the 22-32 crowd. It lives inside of them once more. And not only are they treated with pixelated graphics once again, but the music and sound effects too, combining with the ability to see them in their own environment via the augmented reality mechanism.


Because of this, they can be seen lurking everywhere in our world. Walking to work tomorrow? Well, Pokémon are there. Chilling at home? One may very well be digging around in your backyard. Are you going for a jog later? Don’t forget to put another egg in that incubator.


The nostalgia people are going through while collecting Pokéballs and searching for any Pokémon other than a damn Rattata, are coupling with their brains wiring, concocting one sweet recipe for a harmful addiction.

…Or is it?


Neuroscientist Dr Carl Hart writes in his book High Price, with reference to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, that for a person to be labelled as an addict, their use of something must “interfere with important life functions like parenting, work, and intimate relationships. The use must continue despite ongoing negative consequences, take up a great deal of time and mental energy, and persist in the face of repeated attempts to stop or cut back”.

Now, if we relate this to not just Pokémon GO, but video games and apps in general, do we then throw people that partake in them in this box, or just pass it off as another activity, like mindlessly scrolling Facebook?


If the game takes people away from their lives, stops them from going to work, eating, sleeping, talking to their family, friends, dude next door, then sure, I guess we can categorise it as harmful. But if not, then who cares, right?

How and why are we so susceptible to coloured pixels on our screens anyway?


That feeling when you get a new like, friend request, comment, random message off your crush, is the reason as to why so many of us can find ourselves falling down the addiction rabbit hole, and it all comes down to a certain neurotransmitter in our brains that control our reward and pleasure feelings: dopamine.


Release too much of this molecule, and our brain down-regulates the amount of receptors that uptake this transmitter. This results in a decrease in those rewarding and pleasurable feelings.

But tease the brain with just the right amount of stimulation, and it wants more. Take it away at the right moment, and it doesn’t tip into the overload phase and desensitize the dopamine feels.

Give the player a new Pokémon right out of the gate and allow them to enter the environment with the ability to seek out new ones that can appear at any moment and in any suburb, city, street, location. Find one, catch it, and dopamine is released. You want that feeling again? Then simply walk around until you find another.


Going for a walk to find a new Pokémon or level up a current one is already a key motive to the games mechanics. But this may just be the start of the newest style of app that could take over the other ones that are already circulating.

If they update the game, linking the game with our already favourite apps and providing users with the ability to add and message friends, post statuses, and share photos and memes, then this could be the end. And all it takes is for them to add in the ability to see other users in their area on their screen, enabling and enticing them to interact with them for trading, battling, or just making new acquaintances.


If you thought that texting and driving was bad, then you just wait until Pokémon-ing and driving becomes a thing.

The ramifications for this one, however, is far worse than texting. And you can thank the unavoidable scenario for Pokémon to show up literally wherever you go for that. Couple this with not being able to rely on muscle memory, like you can with texting, as they can show up in any corner of your screen, and you have a perfect recipe for less eyes on the road and less brain capacity focused on controlling that coffin on wheels.



Yesterday I was at the beach and I witnessed someone in their mid-twenties swipe their finger up their screen while pointing it out to the water horizon (the way you throw a Pokéball to catch one). I watched them walk up the beach for another 100 metres or so, stopping intermittently and going about the same task. On their return I said hello and asked them if they were catching Pokémon. To which they replied “yeah man, got a Psyduck just before”.


I laughed and they went on to tell me that they only went for a walk with their little sister and their dog, just to see if they could find some Pokémon. Which might sound a little lame to some, but hey, at least they were outside in the sun, right? And what difference is this to the millions of people that sit at the beach all day long scrolling social apps? I mean, at least they were walking.

And with certain Pokémon only showing up in certain locations (like water Pokémon at the beach), and the game actually syncing with your phones GPS and pedometer to meet certain requirements, there is no doubt a huge incentive for people to get off the couch, and get outside.

Of course the issues then arise with the humans that are too glued to their phones to see the semi-trailer coming from their right, but this has already been happening for the past few years, so there is nothing new there.


A whole new app and world for people to add into their lives, do the negatives outweigh the positives with this one? I’ll let you decide. For now, I’m off to catch me another Zubat.


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Hayden Perno
Hayden Perno