Pokémon Go & The Pursuit of Happiness

Only 10 days after its release, Pokémon Go was declared the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. That’s right. Americans cast aside Angry Birds and Candy Crush to chase virtual Pokémon creatures all over the world, getting arrested for trespassing, among other things, while they were at it.

Outside of mobile gaming, the most popular board game in history is chess, and the childhood favorite, according to an unscientific aggregation of The Go Game Google searches, is hide-and-seek. (And not to steal the thunder from Pokémon Go, but chess and hide-and-seek have their own share of reported arrests, such as Bobby Fischer for violating economic sanctions against Yugoslavia for playing a match in that country, seven men who were caught playing chess in New York City in a park area off-limits to adults unaccompanied by kids, and the naked guy who got stuck in a chimney for 12 hours in a game of hide-and-seek gone awry.

So, aside from weird arrests, what do Pokémon Go, chess and hide-and-seek have in common? The short answer: the pursuit of happiness.

Games, if they’re good, are built to offer rewards as they’re played—points, other people’s game pieces or the glee of finding a well-hidden friend. These rewards activate the brain’s pleasure center, which releases dopamine. When that happens, it’s like we’ve drunk from a super hero’s water bottle. Dopamine boosts our motivation and concentration. We feel euphoric. Without getting too deep into the science, dopamine is a dose of happiness at its most foundational level. Matthias Koepp and his colleagues documented this relationship between dopamine and video games in a study published in the journal Nature in 1998.

But the pursuit of happiness isn’t only about a dopamine fix. Games, if well engineered, can offer social interaction with other people, distraction from day-to-day life (a.k.a. recreation), a sense of accomplishment, the opportunity to use our imaginations and sometimes even a sense of belonging. (Fact: There are still Dungeons and Dragons groups out there. Bonus trivia: Which is saying something because D&D was first released in 1974.)

Because we’re in the industry and love play in all its forms, we were also curious to compare and contrast the Pokémon Go experience with what we create. Overall, The Go Game and Pokémon Go are similar in the sense that both turn the real world into a game, but instead of looking at the world through a device, our games foster deeper interactions with the physical environment and the people within it.
To break it down: Both games use technology to get people outside, move around physically and explore their surroundings in a new way. Like Pokémon Go, our games augment reality, not in the form of virtual AR, but by bringing actors and fictional challenges into the mix.

But the similarities end there. Pokémon Go players pursue virtual critters that rustle in the bushes and battle other players’ pets, while The Go Game players solve riddles and crusade against other teams in head-to-head challenges of wit and skill. In The Go Game, players take goofy photos and videos of their colleagues and friends instead of virtual monsters. And perhaps most notably, while Pokémon Go brings strangers together to form teams, The Go Game unites co-workers in collaboration—the pursuit of happiness with a team.

Whether Pokémon Go stands the test of time is yet to be determined, but, at its core, the latest in digital gaming is similar to other popular games—even The Go Game, except we have no rap sheet.

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