Pokémon GO: Here, There, Where?

In a previous post on this blog which can be found here, I discussed Pokémon GO as a phenomenon in 2016 and my personal experience returning to the game in 2019. I have also discussed Pokémon GO in relation to the autoethnographic methodology which can be read here. That post also asked and answered surface-level questions on whether or not the experience playing Pokémon GO is different outside of Australia, particularly in Asian countries as the context of this research falls within the parameters of BCM320 – Digital Asia. In this blog post, I will be expanding on the initial questions asked in my previous post and specifically look at how the Pokémon GO gameplay experience is different in Australia compared to countries in Asia. I will again be using the autoethnographic methodology to analyse my own personal experiences in relation to this topic.

Pokémon GO is an Augmented Reality (AR) mobile game, developed and published by Niantic, in collaboration with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. A Pokémon is a ‘pocket monster’, which is often designed around features of two or more different animals (Duffy 2016). The game uses many components of the Pokémon brand and associated intellectual property which is managed by The Pokémon Company (a joint venture of Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures) (The Pokémon Company International 2019).

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Pokémon GO © Niantic, Nintendo & The Pokémon Company

In Autoethnography: An Overview, Ellis et al. (2011) define 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; which are gathered through field research (Ellis et al. 2011).

This is the autoethnographic methodology that I have deployed to undertake my research. In order to better understand the difference in Pokémon GO gameplay experience between countries, I have thought about my own personal experiences playing the game here in Australia (particularly within the communities in Orange and Wollongong), and also considering my epiphanies about the experience in Asian countries. Something I didn’t do in my initial autoethnographic exploration of Pokémon GO was also consider the similarities and consistencies between the experience in Australia and other countries.

The way I thought about my own personal experiences and epiphanies was through live-tweeting. Specifically, I live-tweeted a documentary about Brandon Tan, the number one ranked Pokémon GO player in the world (Cotton 2019), who is from Singapore. This documentary was created by a YouTuber, Trainer Tips, who is otherwise known as Nick Oyzon. The video primarily focused on Brandon’s hardcore playstyle of Pokémon GO, and the strategies behind how he came to be the best player in the world, but it also touched on the community aspect of the game and how this is portrayed in Singapore specifically. This is mainly what I was looking at and thinking about during the live-tweeting session, while drawing on my personal experiences to effectively be an active part of both cultures autoethnographically (Ellis et al. 2011).

You can find the full live-tweeting session in this Twitter thread here, and under the hashtag #bcm320PoGO (#bcm320PokemonGO). I also leveraged my insights from the live-tweeting session to conduct further research about the epiphanies I was having. For example, I was able to compare my time playing the game in Wollongong to other players in the same community through a personal communication via Twitter with Ren Vettoretto, a Ph.D. student who interviewed a number of players from Wollongong about their experience with Pokémon GO.

I personally returned to Pokemon GO in May of this year after a returning love affinity with the Pokémon franchise. I feel like the community aspect of the game has changed so much since the initial release in 2016, especially due to newer game features like Raid Battles and Community Days. It may not feel that way to some players due to the overall lower amount of people walking around with the game, but the players in my community are often playing together and when events take place, the larger number of groups come out in full force. Other players from Wollongong have also stated that Pokémon GO has led to new friendships, a sense of belonging, and elicited kindness within a community (Vettoretto 2019, pers. comm., 29 October).

After some additional research, I was able to find a specific Facebook group for Pokémon GO in Singapore. The group is very similar to those found in Australia, with players using it to organise in-game activities such as player friendships, and having a general discussion about the game. Many players from the Wollongong community have indicated that they also have joined a dedicated Pokémon GO Facebook group (Vettoretto 2019, pers. comm., 29 October).

So far, the insights from the live-tweeting session have been congruent between playing Pokémon GO in Australia compared to Singapore, but this legal factor creates a big difference. I think this is particularly interesting as the game features are consistent between the two countries, but an external factor pertaining to Singapore completely changes the playstyle that the gamers deploy.

One of my original thoughts about the comparison between the Pokémon GO gameplay experience in Australia and countries in Asia were that I assumed the players in Asia would play the game more competitively. This stemmed from my own personal 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‘. The high level of competitiveness in Singapore was confirmed in Nick’s video, but it was interesting to think about the idea of geographical constraints being a big reason why players were so competitive. Singapore is a densely populated country of 5.8 million people (Worldometers 2019), and gym availability in Pokémon GO is dependant on the size of the physical location, while still being limited to 6 players at a time. It’s true that there simply aren’t enough gyms for the number of people playing in Singapore.

Again, the affirmations I had about players in Singapore and other Asian countries being more competitive were generally confirmed by interviewees in the documentary. However, it was very interesting to see that the players believed that there was a correlation between their Asian culture and level of competitiveness when not only playing Pokémon GO and other video games but also with life in general. I didn’t initially think that something like ancestorial influence would be a factor.

Upon further research, I was able to determine another key difference between Pokémon GO in Australia compared to Asian countries; the direct influence of government and other higher powers. In Australia, regulations that hinder any form of gameplay experience are generic and aren’t designed specifically with Pokémon GO in mind, an example is the traffic law case study mentioned above. However, there have been instances in Asian countries where this was the case.

During the initial release of the game, the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications considered the game to be a danger and security issue as citizens weren’t paying full attention while driving or walking, and venturing into restricted areas. This led to a nationwide ban on citizens playing the game at government sites (Minh 2016). The Philipines also banned the game in the workplace due to similar reasons, after the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) discovered that around 4% of Malaysian employers fired their staff for playing the game at work (Ang 2016).

In conclusion, this autoethnographic look into Pokémon GO has allowed me to discover the similarities and differences in the gameplay experience between countries such as Australia and Singapore, and how different cultural, geographical and political influences affect the experience in different ways between these countries. Overall, I feel that the experience isn’t as different as I originally thought, will similarities including the use of Facebook groups for communication, and the game enriching a sense of community. The main differences stemmed from cultural differences between Australia and Asia, in addition to the geographic limitations of more densely populated Asian communities.

Reference list:

Ang, J 2016, ‘4% of employers in Malaysia have fired staff over Pokémon Go’, HumanResources, 26 September, viewed 30 October 2019, <https://www.humanresourcesonline.net/4-employers-malaysia-fired-staff-pokemon-go/>.

Cotton, P 2019, ‘World’s best Pokemon Go player does an insane amount of raids in one day’, Dexerto, 1 September, viewed 30 October, <https://www.dexerto.com/pokemon/pokemon-go-player-50-raids-day-969399>.

Duffy, C 2016, ‘What is social media phenomenon Pokemon Go?’, ABC, 14 July, viewed 29 October 2019, <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-11/what-is-pokemon-go/7587346>.

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>.

Minh, H 2016, ‘Vietnam bans Pokemon Go from government, defense sites’, Reuters, 18 August, viewed 30 October 2019, <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nintendo-pokemon-vietnam-idUSKCN10T0DL>.

The Pokemon Company 2019, ‘Business Summary’, The Pokemon Company International, viewed 29 October, <https://www.pokemon.co.jp/corporate/en/services/>.

Vettoretto, R 2019, Twitter conversation, 29 October.

Worldometers 2019, ‘Singapore Population (2019)’, viewed 30 October, <https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/singapore-population/>.

 

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