In July 2016, I blogged about Pokemon Go, how I’d been learning to play it, and how I could see the potential for churches, and wider society. I felt that I’d just been experimenting with it to see if I could see the potential, and having “never been a gamer”, didn’t expect to keep playing it. My blog post led to a piece on the LSE Religion and Public Sphere Blog, and an interview on Radio 4, after which I thought I was done!
My friend Erika, however, having laughed at how geeky we all were at a digital event trying to learn how to play it, had got into it, and persuaded me to give it another go. We joined the same team (Red), and compared the new Pokemon we were finding. One of the incentives for me to keep going was being able to ‘hatch eggs’, and get rewarded for the distance walked through walking your ‘buddy’ (which enables you to collect more ‘candy’, required to power up and evolve Pokemon, currently walking Magikarp in return for 1 candy per km, whilst others are 1 candy per 5km), and the buzz of ‘finding’ or ‘evolving’ new Pokemon is still the best part of the game for me!
Today I posted the following tweet – noted as people often say they don’t believe people are still playing it:
— Dr Bex Lewis (@drbexl) October 23, 2018
There are still a significant number of people playing it – nowhere near the early days, clearly, but enough for the software company to keep investing in it, and over the past year+, as I’ve been dealing with the joy that is cancer, Pokemon Go has provided a simple ‘gamification’ element to getting out of bed and getting some fresh air every day. At the point of surgery, there were 2 Pokestops at Stepping Hill hospital (which have now disappeared), so I was able to ‘spin’ a Pokestop and catch at least one Pokemon on the way into surgery/on the way home. Pokemon has a system of ‘streaks’ in play, where so long as you do both of these things at least once a day, you can build up to a 7-day streak, and each day get a bonus of extra balls, potions, and special items (much easier to do in urbanised rather that rural areas!). The app gives you an idea of where the nearest Pokemon are hanging out, although there are further ones ‘in the wild’ (not near Pokestops) – with a ‘shadow’ shape illustrating where there is a Pokemon you don’t yet have (to add to your ‘Pokedex’)!
As I still had my streak even on the day/day after surgery, when my Mum was persuading me to go and get some fresh air the day afterwards, we went down to the local park – where there is a Pokestop – and walked 350 steps in one direction, and 350 in the other (thanks to iPhone Health app – no idea how accurate it is, but gives an idea), past 2 Pokestops and home. This, however, set the tone for the rest of my treatment – seeking out Pokestops, and aiming to build up the number of steps each day. Following the Beyond Chocolate mantra of ‘move’ (rather than exercise) that is enjoyable, I found a simple way to get myself moving! Over the course of all my treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy), I have only missed 2 days of Pokestops – every other day I levered myself out of bed (showering was not always possible as well), and wobbled and wove my way across the pavement and around the block – with the nearest Pokestop requiring a 1km round trip. As the days went on I would seek to get to the next Pokestop, and the next, and the next … becoming very familiar with benches and the odd wall to lean against on my way round! I’m not convinced the Pokemon Go distance thing is correct either, but so long as the psychology of it is working, that will do for me!
I found searching for the Manchester Bees similarly enjoyable, but Pokemon is a much bigger/longer-term game. As the game has continued to evolve so has interactivity with friends – in June this year they introduced sending/receiving of gifts – which includes more balls, potions, etc – which means I get to think of that person each day that I play (though I do not always collect enough gifts from Pokestops for swaps with all, but apparently we ‘gain’ even on a one way gifting). One to watch out for, which I’m not always strategic enough to spot, is when you’re about to reach ‘Ultra’ level of friends, co-ordinating, and both placing on a ‘Lucky Egg’ 5 minutes before swapping leads to a double bonus score (managed to do that twice, both times spotted by someone else). Erika’s the only friend so far that I’ve been able to do ‘trades‘ of interesting Pokemon (e.g. region specific, ‘shiny’ pokemon, task-related Pokemon) as need to be in geographical proximity for that to happen …
The other new element that I like to the game, also introduced earlier this year, is the ‘Research Tasks‘. These include things such as ‘Hatch an egg’, ‘Make 3 Good Throws’, ‘Win 3 Gym Battles’, ‘Catch 10 Pokemon’, and a maximum of 3 can be running at any one time. They are collected from Pokestops, and the aim is to complete at least one research task each day, which then leads to completed ‘Field Research’ after 7 days in which one has the opportunity to e.g. catch a rarer Pokemon (and gain extra points!). You can complete more than one research task per day, but only one counts cumulatively. There are also ‘Special Research’ tasks, which are more complex, with bigger prizes – arriving today is one tied into upcoming Halloween, where for the next few days more ‘Ghost-type Pokemon’ will be out to be caught. Once completed, then it’s time to claim … and add to your bulging bag of Pokemon or Pokemon catching tools (which are always running out of space!).
It’s a pretty complex and sophisticated game to be honest, and the only way to really learn it is to play it (or accompany a friend playing it), and I suspect I don’t know the half of it – but works on a level that satisfices me – even if I constantly need to be carrying a back-up battery around with me. The fourth set of Pokemon have just been released, so there’s some new ones to find – and I think there are 5 more ‘regions’ to go! I have friends who use the gamers app: Discord to plan raids, and identify where specific Pokemon are, and plan gift swaps, and there’s plenty of tips and more to be found online!
Meantime, the benefits of exercise for managing cancer treatment, limiting chance of recurrence, etc. continue to be spread via people such as CancerFit.Me and ABCDiagnosis, and I’m still keeping up with my gym and swim sessions…
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.