Pokémon GO & The Autoethnographic Methodology

In a previous post on this blog, I discussed my personal experience with Pokémon GO, such as my observation of the game’s release in 2016, and my return to playing it in 2019. This post will use the autoethnographic methodology to analyse and understand my communicated personal experiences.

In Autoethnography: An Overview, Ellis et al. (2011) defines autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”. The methodology of conducting autoethnography can essentially be broken down into a two-part framework, “The Process (Doing Autoethnography)” and “The Product (Writing Autoethnography)” (Ellis et al. 2011).

Doing autoethnography refers to thinking about your experiences in hindsight, known as having epiphanies, which are made possible by being an active part of a particular culture. Writing autoethnography involves producing a thick description of your experiences with, and observations of a particular culture. These experiences and observations are gathered through field research and must be communicated by the researcher using facets of storytelling (Ellis et al. 2011).

Ellis et al. (2011) explain that communicating your autoethnographic experiences through storytelling is key to making your personal experience meaningful and unique, and cultural experience engaging for an audience. A specific facet of storytelling is the narrative approach, where the author views themself as the phenomenon and how they fit in, interact or intersect with a culture and its context. Trahar (2009) states that the definition of autoethnography is congruent with that of narrative inquiry, further demonstrating the importance of storytelling in the research practice.

This is something I tried to achieve in my previous post, where I would tell my personal story about Pokémon GO, while also centralising myself and using my own cultural context to have epiphanies when thinking about the game in relation to Asia. The next step is to analyse the autoethnographic experience. In relation to cultural analysis, Hokkanen (2017, p. 27) describes the analysis process as zooming in on personal experiences and embodiments, and zooming out on wider cultural concepts and frameworks.

In summary, the autoethnographic methodology makes sense to me as firstly doing ethnography (having epiphanies), and then writing ethnography (communicating these epiphanies), where storytelling facets such as narrative inquiry are used, and finally, analysing the epiphanies to further understand the personal experience and cultural significance. I can use parts of this methodology to analyse the epiphanies I had during my previous post when thinking about Pokémon GO in relation to Asia.

Firstly, I wondered whether it was possible to play Pokémon GO in China, and after additional research, I discovered that the game’s services are blocked by The Great Firewall. Living in Australia for my entire life leaves me with some ignorance on what it’s like to use the internet in other countries, but I still assumed it would not be possible to use the application based on the many similar things I’ve heard about other apps and internet services not being available in China, particularly because Pokémon GO is GPS based.

I then thought about whether there is a similar community aspect when playing Pokémon GO in Asian countries like there is in Australia. I watched a documentary about Brandon Tan, the best Pokémon GO player in the world (Cotton 2019), who is from Singapore. In the documentary, Brandon’s passion for the game rubbed off on his local community, and many of the players state that the friendship they have formed through the game is what makes them keep playing.

Documentary on Brandon Tan by Trainer Tips

I find this similar to the experience I have in Australia, and I’m not sure why I assumed it would be any different in Asian countries. Perhaps it’s because I had an assumption that many individuals in these countries would be less inclined to participate in a game revolved around playing with strangers, as I’ve learned in the past that certain Asian cultures, such as Japan, are very reserved when it comes to privacy.

My final epiphany was whether or not there’s an element of competitiveness when playing Pokémon GO in Asian countries. As shown in the same documentary, Singaporeans take the game very seriously and constantly fight for control over local gyms, while also considering the stats of their Pokémon to be extremely important. This is something that I assumed would happen, mainly due to my knowledge of gaming communities in Asian countries that are hugely competitive, such as StarCraft gamers in South Korea, which were the focus of a 2013 Esports documentary called ‘State of Play‘.

In the near future, I would like to further analyse my personal experience with Pokémon GO by using the autoethnographic methodology, in order to better understand cultural frameworks and concepts in BCM320 – Digital Asia.

Reference list:

Cotton, P 2019, ‘World’s best Pokemon Go player does an insane amount of raids in one day’, Dexerto, 1 September, viewed 13 September, <https://www.dexerto.com/pokemon/pokemon-go-player-50-raids-day-969399>.

Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, art. 10, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095#gcit>.

Hokkanen, S 2017, ‘Analyzing personal embodied experiences: Autoethnography, feelings, and fieldwork’ The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 27, <http://trans-int.org/index.php/transint/article/viewFile/572/268>.

Trahar, S 2009, ‘Beyond the Story Itself: Narrative Inquiry and Autoethnography in Intercultural Research in Higher Education’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 10, no. 1, art. 30, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1218/2653>.

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