Pokemon Go has gone viral. In U.S. alone, the app has lured under 26 million daily active users. This “augmented reality” game has crossed national boundaries. Now, 26 countries have Pokemon Go users. (See here for statistics: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pokemon-go-statistics/) Even President Obama “appears” as a Pokemon fan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYuZlhCPbjM

According to a BBC article, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160711-the-psychological-tricks-behind-pokemon-gos-success a post also shared on APA social media page, Chris Baraniuk wrote that there were several psychological tricks behind the app’s success. Several gaming characteristics, such as gaming difficulties and social interactions are important for having a fun time with the game. According to Baraniuk and Psychologist Andrew Przybylski at Oxford Internet Institute, some crucial features of Pokemon Go involve user friendly technologies such as GPS and camera, nostalgia, social interaction, exploration and frictionless sharing about activities on social media. Certainly, these psychological features are very appealing to us. Yet, it still begs the question why Pokémon Go is more successful and viral than other games. Why do aforementioned psychological tricks work? Here, I propose some ultimate explanations for playing Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go has augmented not only reality but also our evolved psychology. In modern environment, Pokemon Go has “recreated” the hunter-gatherer environment (see Table 1). Our forbearers have spent over 99% of our species’ evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers (Cosmides & Tooby, 2013). Because “our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind,” I think Pokemon Go has tapped into our evolved hunting and gathering mindset. Is it a far-fetched analogy between Pokemon Go and Hunter-gatherer? Perhaps not.

In comparison to hunting, Pokemon Go players catch Pokémon. Hunting has an unpredictable component (i.e. animals do not appear in the same place at each time). Pokemons on Pokemon Go also appear randomly on the map. However, the complicated algorithms on Pokemon Go have some predictable components. Just like typical hunters, the players do not know the exact location of the Pokemon. And, the players know that the fish (water Pokemon) can be found in water and the rabbit (grass Pokemon) can be found near parks, farms and forests. https://www.vg247.com/2016/07/15/pokemon-go-where-to-find-pokemon-types/#pokemon-go-water-pokemon

Similar to gathering, Pokemon Go players gather Pokeballs and related items at PokeStops. At Pokemon stops, you can reliably gather Pokeballs, potions, lucky eggs, etc. Just like fruits and vegetables would appear at familiar locations, these Pokemon items can be reliably gathered at PokeStops based on the player’s levels. Such hunting and gathering is also a collective effort. Parallel to small nomadic bands of a few individuals, the players go out to hunt Pokemons and gather Pokeballs.

Using an evolutionary theoretical framework, we can further predict specific sexually dimorphic behaviors of Pokemon Go players. In our ancestral environment, it is very likely that women predominantly gathered and men predominantly hunted (Lee & DeVore, 1968). As such, larger kills from hunting could provide higher calories and could confer greater social status in the group (Bird, 1999). A greater status, obtained from successful hunting, is important in male reproductive success (Gurven & Hill, 2009).

Likewise, not all Pokemons in Pokemon Go are equally likely to be caught. Some are rarer than the others. I predict that male Pokemon players would spend much more time on increasing combat power, and chasing rarer Pokemons. The top 100 players with highest level in Pokemon Go are expected to be predominantly males. We can also quantitatively analyzed gender differences in having top 50 rarest Pokemon. Here is the ranked list of rarity (based on the data from Pok’e Assistant: http://www.pokemongodb.net/2016/05/pokemon-rarity-closed-beta.html Similarly, male players, more than female players, are more likely to attempt catching and having rarer Pokemon in their Pokedex. Males would also spend more money (actual cash) in app-purchase for items that speed up their levels and combat power on Pokemon Go. Increased player levels and owning rarer Pokemon possibly imply higher status and better hunting skills in the mindset of male players. At least, higher status as the Pokemon players could be the case among males. Unlike hunting larger animals, catching rarer Pokemons possibly has no impact on reproductive success.

Women possibly perceived gathering as an opportunity to socialize with others (Kruger and Byker, 2009). Although men would do the same in hunting process, it would have been much more of a silent activity once the actual hunting starts. In modern environment, Kruger and Byker (2009) found that women perceived shopping as a much more recreational and socializing activity than men. In Pokemon Go, my prediction is that women play together with their friends for socializing purposes while men play Pokemon for getting more powerful Pokemons (pragmatic purposes). We can test this hypothesis by surveying players.

Pokemon Go also tap into several other instincts. To name a few, the game evokes our coalitional mind sets (you can join either Mystic, Valor, or Instinct groups) to defend and fight for your territorial gyms, our evolved preferences toward neotenous features (Pikachu is an epitome of supernormal cutie stimulus), attraction toward natural landscapes (Pokemon Go takes us beautiful places).

There are no Pokemons in our ancestral time, but there were animals, fruits and vegetables. Our ancestral successful resource acquisitions undoubtedly have great impacts on their survival and reproduction.

I think Pokemon Go in modern environment are activating our evolved psychological architecture, passed on from our ancestors. Certain features within the game are specifically context dependent and underlie sex differences in behaviors. Darwinian insight is applicable to Pokemon Go, isn’t it? And of course, we should first test out these hypotheses first. Gotta test ‘em all!
Table 1. Parallel Characteristics between Hunting and Gathering, & Pokemon Go

  Hunting and Gathering Pokemon Go
HUNTING Hunting animals Catching pokemons
UNPREDICATBLE Animals are mobile Pokemons appear and disappear at various and random locations
GATHERING Gathering fruits & vegetables Gathering pokeballs, potions, etc. at pokestop
PREDICTABLE Fruits & Vegetables grow and regrow in familiar locations You can always get pokemon items at pokestop.
COLLECTIVE EFFORTS Mostly done in groups Typically play in groups






Baraniuk, C. (n.d.). The psychological tricks behind Pokemon Go’s success. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160711-the-psychological-tricks-behind-pokemon-gos-success

[Baracksdubs]. (2016, July 17). Barack Obama Singing the Pokémon Theme Song. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYuZlhCPbjM

Bird, R. (1999). Cooperation and conflict: The behavioral ecology of the sexual division of labor. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8, 65-75.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). Evolutionary psychology: A primer. In S. M. Downes, E. Machery, S. M. Downes, E. Machery (Eds.) , Arguing about human nature: Contemporary debates (pp. 83-92). New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Donaldson, A. (n.d.). Pokemon Go: Where to find all Pokemon types. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from https://www.vg247.com/2016/07/15/pokemon-go-where-to-find-pokemon-types/#pokemon-go-water-pokemonHot Game: Amazing Pokemon Go Statistics. (2016). Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pokemon-go-statistics/

Gurven, M., & Hill, K. (2009). ‘Why do men hunt? A reevaluation of ‘man the hunter’ and the sexual division of labor’: Reply. Current Anthropology, 50(1), 67-74.

Kruger, D., & Byker, D. (2009). Evolved foraging psychology underlies sex differences in shoping experiences and behaviors. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 3(4), 328-342. doi:10.1037/h0099312

Lee, R.B., & DeVore, I. (1968). Man the hunter. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Pokémon Rarity (Closed Beta). (2016, July 17). Retrieved from http://www.pokemongodb.net/2016/05/pokemon-rarity-closed-beta.html




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