It happened as I walked home from work. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon; I was at the half-way mark on my thirty minute journey, the sun shining proudly and unhindered before me as I attempted to shield the screen of my smartphone from its blinding glare. Pokémon GO had been out for a few months and I had become quite good at navigating the clumsy interface of the game with one hand as I blocked out the sun with the other — it’s not as easy as it sounds. It was an unassuming moment. It was a route I had walked home many times before — one that had been slightly altered to take me past more Gyms and Pokéstops in the augmented reality game. It also meant walking some extra distance. But I didn’t mind that. Taking more steps in the game means hatching more eggs — which give you an opportunity to acquire a new Pokémon randomly assigned to you based on the distance needed to hatch it. Today I was walking home with a rare 10 km egg in the works and at this moment — as I prepared to replenish items at a nearby Pokéstop — it began to hatch.

I — like many other people my age — have a long and personal history with the Pokémon franchise. I collected the cards that would eventually be banned in schools. I watched the anime series that aired before school every day. And, of course, I played the games. Even during that period of high school where it was absolutely not acceptable for people my age to still be into Pokémon, I continued to play in secret.

Catching ’em all is something I have managed to do several times now — even as the series insists on expanding its roster of Pokémon with each new “generation” of games. And pretty much every time I have done so it has been an underwhelming experience. It’s a bit like absent-mindedly snacking on popcorn all day and then suddenly realising around dinner time that you’re not hungry. It’s something that you think should feel satisfying, but really just leaves you wondering what to do now — potentially tinged with regret.

Pokémon GO really does commit to the theatrics of revealing what was inside your egg. When the moment comes the game stops everything you were doing to show the animation of the egg, which begins to jiggle and jump as the monster within pushes against the shell — eager to reveal itself to the player. This time fate had rolled its weighty dice and allocated me a Pokémon called Chansey — a large, round, pink, happy creature that is often portrayed as nurturing and caring by the larger mythos of the Pokémon universe. It was also the last Pokémon I needed before I had collected all 142 Pokémon currently available in Australia.

The difference between the main Pokémon games and Pokémon GO is that, over the years, the main series has done a lot to develop and enhance modes of enjoyment that exist outside of (or at least parallel to) the drive to collect. In fact, I think the collecting element is less emphasised overall in Japan, where the games are created. In the most recent iterations, the advances in graphical fidelity have allowed players the opportunity to connect with the Pokémon they catch in a multitude of ways. You can produce short videos with them, breed and train them to build different teams with different strategies for competitive play, and even just the ability to feed, pat, and love them.

Pokémon GO completely lacks these features.

There’s no way to meaningfully connect with your Pokémon — there’s no way to bond. There’s nothing to offer competitive players as all nuance and fidelity present in the mechanics of the main game are removed in favour of a number of limited variables that make your Pokémon either good or bad. And even if that fidelity were present, there’s no meaningful way to engage with other players. There’s no strategy in Pokémon GO. And there’s barely any love. Perhaps the only thing that comes close is the ability to layer the monsters over the real world using the camera in your smart device. It’s a neat feature, but one that many players largely ignore because of the ways in which it makes the game more frustrating to play and the serious toll it takes on battery life.

Pokémon GO was unarguably an important moment in the history of video games and culture. As I have written previously, there were a few amazing weeks where (locally at least) Pokémon GO changed the way I saw and engaged with my community. It transformed spaces around us and helped set a standard for what will hopefully be a long and rich lineage of portable augmented reality games. But Pokémon GO — more obviously than any other games in the franchise — exposes the rotten core beneath the sweet flesh of the franchise and leans into its worst ideas at the expense of what makes the game more interesting and endearing. Pokémon GO is unquestionably about consumption. Which is fine, of course. We live in a late capitalist world and basically everything we engage with is consumption on some level. But Pokémon GO is consumption without satiation. Despite operating under the guise of a goal — “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” — what Pokémon really provides us with is a void to be filled. The rewards for filling this void feel lesser and become infrequent as you catch more Pokémon. So by the time you finally get the very last piece in your grand monster collection, you barely feel anything at all. I always expect to feel something — but then I realise the game had completely worn away my feelings towards it many hundreds of hours ago. It was just a thing I was doing because it was what I had already been doing — and with that the realisation that Pokémon can’t ever offer me any real sense of achievement through its “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” mentality — all it can really offer is the promise of more hunger in the future.

As the marketing for Pokémon relentlessly reminds us, we’ve “Gotta catch ‘em all” — and this is exactly what I had just done. Suddenly, in this strange private moment, two months of dedicated collecting had culminated in a moment of completion. I had put in the time and I had caught them all.

And I felt nothing.

About The Author

Angus is a writer, a worrier, and a digital media wanker. He is a devoted fan of Dark Souls and Bayonetta with a profound weakness for alt-games, visual novels, and cute anime trash. Firmly supports diversity, video game accessibility, and believes there’s a game out there for everyone. Tweets and shitposts @angusuow.