It started as an ethnological experiment. I wanted to understand the bewildering fever that had gripped adults in the US and Europe, rendering them into mobile-wielding zombies hunting for imaginary monsters superimposed onto the real world.

The first week when Pokémon GO was launched in Hong Kong, it was as though many of its inhabitants had been possessed. People were stricken with sudden paralysis mid-walk, exacerbating what was already a congested sidewalk traffic situation.

A sign in the metro stations warning passengers to be alert when playing (Pokémon GO) on their phones

It was amusing to see adults walking en masse during lunch hour around my office area, concentrating hard as they flicked their fingers across their mobile phone screens. Static crowds gathered around innocuous venues indicated the presence of a gym or a concentration of PokéStops flooded with lures and pink petals.

Pokestops with lures
Pokémon trainers out in full force

Suddenly the trams became crowded, in spite of the sweltering summer heat, as people took advantage of the lumbering vehicle to traverse Hong Kong Island in search of the creatures, quickly collect goodies at PokéStops and hatch eggs with minimal physical exertion. All that for just HK$2.30 for up to 10 kilometres. What a bargain!

Romeo & Juliet exchanging Pokemon notes
Lovebirds in matching apparel engrossed with catching Pokémons on a tram

I got a kick from overlaying Pokémons in all sorts of situations, from AB petting a Weedle to having a Caterpie work out on a treadmill, and the poisonous Gloom taking cover amongst villain hitters under a flyover.

Gloom pokemon with the villian hitters (打小人) under the flyover in Causeway Bay
Gloom amid villian hitters (打小人) in Causeway Bay

The addiction crept up on me. What had began out of curiousity soon occupied almost every idle moment.

I was on a quest: Gotta catch ‘em all. 

I wanted to catch all 147* Pokémons without going to a gym or buying any supplementary items. One might say that I was a half-hearted Pokémon trainer. Whatever.

At least I was ethical, unlike some players who paid someone to catch Pokémons on their behalf. I spotted some enterprising individuals who were simultaneously playing the game on two phones.

After weeks of hiding behind my “ethnological experiment” excuse, I conceded that spending almost two hours a day catching pocket monsters wherever I was – be it at home, in a supermarket or even when hiking – meant that I was addicted to Pokémon GO.

Poliwag in a supermarket
Poliwag in a supermarket

The first step to cure an addiction – according to the 12-step programme proposed by the Alcoholics Anonymous – is to be honest with oneself.

Fortunately, I didn’t need any supreme power or higher being to save me from my addiction. I was miraculously cured when our long-awaited shipment finally arrived from Brussels. Having those 50-plus boxes descend upon our tiny apartment saved the day.

I suppose that PokémonGO, like other addictive substances and habits, filled a (temporary) void in my life.

What is your personal experience with Pokémon GO? I promise I won’t judge 🙂

* I have registered 80 types of Pokémons so far, which means I’m more than half way towards catching ’em all!

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14 replies on “Confession of a former addict

  1. I have never played it, I don’t even own a smart phone and I don’t feel tempted at all, not by smart phones and not by such games. I find it an interesting phenomenon, but I am not going to take part. Perhaps I am too old and in some way too old-fashioned. I have a degree in computer science but I can remember a time when there were no computers. I remember that when I saw a computer for the first time (that was a big machine in an office building), it was something special (back in the 1970s). I did my very first programming exercises on punched cards.
    I actually prefer reading a good book (or a good blog, good you stoped, because we would have lost an interesting blog. 🙂 ). Currently I am rereading Stanislaw Lem’s Star Diaries, an extremely funny and at the same time philosophical book. That is a better way to pass the time (at least for me) than hunting virtual monsters.
    I like spending my time thinking. That has something to do with my personality type, other people obviously enjoy other kinds of activities, but for me, a “smart phone” would take time away from me. It would create disturbances.
    When you get older, at some time you realize that ther is only a limted amount of time in a life and it is getting smaller. You start looking at life from the end, and that perspective causes one to set priorities. Seen from there, catching virtual monsters is a waste of time. Such games are designed in order to be entertaining and adictive. They tap into the reward system of the brain, but they don’t make you grow. In that sense, they are parasitic. A smart phone is a delivery system for time-eating parasitic activities (at least for many people). Of course, you can do really smart things with it, but most of the apps are not like that.
    I am also currently packing, so I know how that feels to have the appartment full of boxes 🙂

    1. Hi Nannus, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I read it several times hoping to etch your wise words into my memory.

      Like you, I enjoy spending time thinking. I believe that my state of mind is reflected by the state of my work desk or home (or both). Seeing clutter frustrates me and causes a mental block – which prevents me from thinking beyond the many busy things that are occupying my attention. Some are just busy work that don’t have any meaningful purpose to me (and I try to minimise these), others are superficial interests such as (spending too much time on) social media as these involve less mental effort.

      One of the things that I was looking forward to with the arrival of our things was my books. In the past two weeks, I’ve been reading a book on the metro instead of looking on my phone. Regarding the latter, I’m mostly reading the news and stories that interest me but it’s been refreshing to not be staring at a screen.

      I wish I could be more disciplined and spend less time on the phone or computer but sometimes I feel compelled to not let go of these machines that connect me to my loved ones and ideas from interesting people from all over. Perhaps the solution is to prioritise and allocate time for everything. But I don’t like following a timetable in my personal life! What a dilemma…

      P.S. Good luck with the packing!

  2. It’s funny but I’ve read about the accidents it has caused and am aware of the hype yet I have yet to see anyone playing it…Or else I’m too oblivious to what the kids are doing nowadays that I miss what’s going on under my nose!

    1. I read about the accidents and thought how stupid some people can be. I thought I’d be impervious to this. You know what? The first time I tried playing it in the lobby at my office, I was so taken with the ‘augmented reality’ that I stepped into a low-lying fountain feature while trying to approach a pokemon (-_-)

  3. Are you kidding? Of course we’ve been playing it. I’m too much of a rebel to give into a hype just like that, but it was the school holidays and you can’t have your kid to be like the only one who doesn’t know how it goes, so I said ok, let’s check it out 🙂 Plus, the young one’s phone can’t cope with the download so the game had to go on my phone, so it was a fun thing for us to do together. The teenager was out and about with his friends, getting insane amounts of km’s together. We do live in a rather quiet part of the world, so one could really combine nice lakeshore walks with Pokemon hunting. Great fun. As expected, once the school holidays were over, the whole thing dwindled down by itself, but we can say we did it whole heatedly (even the husband took the phone on runs to get some eggs hatched) and had great fun while it lasted 🙂

    1. One thing that’s nice about pokemon is that it makes you walk (or at least get up and about). When it was launched in Singapore, my Facebook feed was filled with photos of my friends taking walks in the parks, going to new places in the city, being active outdoors instead of watching TV at home. My boyfriend offered to take my phone on his runs to help me hatch some eggs but I didn’t take him up on it :p

  4. This was cute to read and I laughed my way through! Love that it started as a part of your own ethnographic study! 😉 What I do love about the game is that there are so many stories about once depressed kids getting out their house to play to game and catch Pokemon. Living in London, I walk A LOT so it’s a fun game to play on the go. I have caught 89! 😀

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Christina! I’ve not come across the stories that you mentioned though I saw some articles about how it helped some autistic children to get out of the house and interact with other children. Which is nice 🙂 I think I might not have gotten bored of the game so soon if there were more new monsters to catch. After all, there are only so many Pidgeys, Caterpies, Weedles, Eevees and Rattatas that I’m willing to catch.

    1. Funny you mentioned this. I think this game could have been much more interesting in fun if there were certain features – including fighting the pokemons to catch them, actually battling with fellow players in the gym, and having higher quality augmented reality instead of sticking an image onto a screen.

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