I am Holly Green. I am 30 or 40 years old. And I’m worried that Pokémon is taking over my life.
It is no secret that Pokémon is a grind. While the series is built on fun ideas like biology and zoology, deep down, it’s the godfather of all collectible-based games. Playing out in the hundreds of Pokémon to collect in each videogame and the trading cards of the card-based game as well, its addictiveness makes it a phenomenon, and a cash cow. They’re among the most popular games in the world, no doubt in part due to how deliberately they’re designed to be time-consuming.
I’ve been asked before, by readers who are familiar with my writing on OCD and game design, if I’m affected by Pokémon. For the longest time, I avoided the games because I knew that playing them would open a door I would never be able to close. When Pokémon GO came out, I found the prospect of hunting for Pokémon in real life too tempting to ignore, and the fact that it would get me out of the house every day was a great bonus. The mobile game was a fun gateway to the series, and in a weird way, it actually added to my quality of life, especially once Pokémon Let’s Go was launched. My obsession with collecting Pokémon could at least serve some purpose, in that I could collect Shiny specimens to import into the Switch game. Obsession fully in place, I felt like I finally understood the global Pokémon phenomenon.
But indulging my new love of Pokémon has reached a staggering grind. I’ve completed the new games, both Sword and Shield, but somehow, it seems like the collecting process has only just begun. After the initial 400 Pokémon are caught, you’re awarded a Shiny Charm, which increases the rate at which Shiny Pokémon can spawn. Normally, they appear at a rate of 1/8192, but with the Shiny Charm, and a process known as chaining (that is, defeating as many of the same type of Pokémon as you can in a row), you can reduce it to 1/1365. But whatever the reduction in Shiny spawn rate, it still takes a long time to earn one. Chaining, at least in my experience, takes a minimum of four hours, and Gmax Raids for Shiny Pokémon are even longer, even if you’re coordinating in Discord groups with those who are lucky enough to find one. Breeding, which helps create Shiny Pokémon but is also just a good idea if you like Pokémon with the maximum stats and best traits, requires biking for long distances to hatch eggs, with rarer Pokémon demanding longer distances. It is interminable. No matter what you do, if you want good Pokémon, you better be prepared to abandon all other pastimes.
Meanwhile, in Pokémon GO, there’s similarly the urge to collect all the Shiny Pokémon (and on an even larger scale, given the greater size of its Pokédex). It’s also designed around daily participation, with new goals and objectives delivered on a frequent basis. Every day, once I’ve checked in to keep my Pokéstop and catch streaks going, sent gifts to increase my Friendship levels, and completed a Research Project, I still have Special Research Projects goals and Raids and Special Event objectives to get through. Capitalizing on any increased Shiny rates means signing in routinely, paying attention to increased spawns, and putting in at least an hour or two each evening, even though I live in a walkable city and have an endless supply of Gyms and Pokéstops. And of course there’s Community Day events monthly, which offer the chance to get Shiny Pokémon with special moves not available otherwise. With so many gameplay aspects tied to daily participation, there’s no room for burnout, no matter how much I need a break.
You could argue that this pressure is self imposed, and to a certain extent I’d agree with you. After all, I’m an adult, it’s up to me to decide that the achievement of collecting Pokémon is worthless. And it was my choice to play both the mobile and core games. But the series is also specifically designed to focus on completionism. It’s also primarily targeted at an age group that is the least capable of resisting the manipulative aspects of its design. I may have my own struggles with obsessive behaviors, but I still have to question if this is respectful of the player and their time. There are only so many hours in a day, and even though many of mine are professionally earmarked for videogames, I feel like I can’t afford it.
Between Pokémon GO, and Pokémon Sword and Shield (not to mention Pokémon Let’s Go), it’s overkill. Having a solid, competitive Pokémon roster is less about skill and more about the luxury of time. I love Pokémon, but I don’t like the feeling that it’s worthless to play if I can’t devote every free moment of my day. And right now, that’s what it takes—if I want Shiny or well-bred Pokémon, I have to abandon half of my life.
Sigh. I can’t wait for the expansions.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.