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Pokemon Go: The science behind its popularity

Everyone seems to be going gaga over Pokemon Go, the latest game from the Nintendo stable. The augmented reality game allows people to catch Pokemons  based on locations. Launched for the U.S., Australia and New Zealand markets, it has gone on to become the top-grossing app on the appstore. The game’s pretty fun too!  

The game has found a place in nearly 5 per cent of the smartphones in America. But the game’s popularity went off the roof when news reports started coming in about the strange incidents that people were confronted with when going Pokemon ‘hunting’.

Shayla Wiggins from  Wyoming had a nightmarish experience a couple days ago. She was told that she would find a Pokemon in a water body but instead found a corpse! Yes, a corpse!

This report by the BBC, quotes her as saying, “It was pretty shocking…I didn’t really know what to do at first. But I called 911 right away and they came really quickly.”

And, here’s another freaky story. This one’s is about how armed robbers used Pokemon Go to trap youngsters

Why is Pokemon Go popular?

To explain that we need to understand what’s augmented reality. It is a view that has virtual elements embedded in a real-world world environment. In a way, the reality is modified by overlaying elements that are dynamic and interactive. Sample this:

Traditionally, Pokemon games have been about running around, catching exotic ones and fighting them or with them. Ash Ketchum’s or Satoshi’s, as he’s called in Japan, life revolves around him going to different places and collecting Pokemons as most of them are place-specific and environment-specific.

Herein lies the allure of the game — Nintendo wants us to be Ash Ketchum and hunt for Pokemons, like in the cartoon series.

We went through some research papers to find if there’s any scientific reason behind our craze for such games. Here’s what we found:

This study noted some of the key elements that help in making an augmented reality game. It said the game model must be close to the real world; each team member must have distinct roles; resources must be constrained and appropriate feedback and challenges must be used throughout the game system.

And, Pokemon Go ticks just about all the boxes.

This study was aimed at understanding what affects the engagement levels in an augmented reality game. Here’s what they found.

What makes augmented reality games, in this case Pokemon Go, addictive?

Clear goals: Obvious, right? We need clear, defined goals that tell us what to do, where to go, and what needs to be done to get to the next level.

Satisfaction: The game should have some element of novelty to it. Here’s where Pokemon Go excels. It has taken its core concept — that of walking around and catching Pokemons — and integrated it with the right kind of technology.  The study notes, “novelty expressed the mystery and puzzlement, provided to make people wanting to learn more.”

Focused Attention: The game needs to keep the user focused on the game alone.  High quality video and audio content helps is retaining the user’s attention. It says, “the need to increase player’s workload is significant to keep player’s concentration while still appropriate to player’s perceptual, cognitive and memory limits.”

Mixed fantasy: Such a model creates immersive experience that stimulates emotional aspect of player imagination that leads to better user engagement.

And the last one,

Social gameplay: “Providing social element such as multi-player function for competition and cooperation are necessary to the engagement especially for AR.” There is news doing the rounds that we might soon have a multiplayer option for Pokemon Go. And, we’re pretty sure that will help the game a lot of good.

And, it is reportedly helping people cope depression too!

Why do you like playing Pokemon Go? Tell us in the comment section and we’ll include them as well.


  1. Empirical Analysis of Mobile Augmented Reality Games for Engaging Users’ Experience

  2. Designing Augmented Reality Games for Mobile Learning using an Instructional-Motivational Paradigm

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