Games were nowhere and everywhere in an exhibition about the war against rest

January 16, 2020
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Over the Christmas break I gave up Pokémon Go. It wasn’t on purpose – in fact I think I actually stopped playing a little earlier than that, missing a community day for some weekend commitment or other and then all of a sudden falling off the wagon entirely. But even if it was an accidental cold turkey, quitting has given me a strange sense of pride. I love Pokémon, and I think Pokémon Go is, for the most part, pretty great. It gets you out and about, it’s wonderfully social, it’s a complete change of pace from regular mobile gaming and, obviously, it is still Pokémon. But all the same I am mighty glad to see the back of it, because for all its pleasures Pokémon Go’s grip on my attention and time has, quite frankly, felt rather tyrannical.

To really keep the pace in Pokémon Go you must log in and complete not one, not two, but three different tasks, daily, as a minimum. On top of the regular loop there are then rotating legendaries and rotating research rewards, changing each month or so. There are rotating raids and raid days and raid hours. There are special bonus weeks and weekends; special quests and special cosmetics; special, entirely functionless versions of Pokémon you already have that are wearing special hats. In one sense it’s brilliant: an extraordinarily continuous flow of things to see and do in a game that, as a collectathon, has a finite limit on the number of creatures to catch. At the same time, for anyone caught in the loop but unwilling or unable to fully, wholly commit to it as their sole game – or more than that, their sole hobby – it can be an absolute disaster.

The result of that disaster is people like me: lovers of Pokémon, who grew up with it and failed to fully grow out of it, now with a bit of disposable income and an hour a day of uncolonised time spent walking to and from work making them the primest of marks – but who are instead thoroughly burnt out. It’s a strange, oddly alienating feeling. Pokémon Go is far from the only game to do this – it’s not even the only game to do it to me personally, as a football fan and player recently freed from the compulsions of FIFA Ultimate Team – but it does feel like a fairly recent phenomenon.

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