Why Am I Playing (and Loving) Pokemon Go? Confessions of an Adult Learning Practitioner

Released in early July, Pokemon Go – the new location-based, augmented reality game – has been the perfect summer-time companion. It gets people outdoors and moving around day or night. But is it just a walk-around-and-catch-monsters-in-your-backyard game? Maybe I am just rationalizing the hours of playing (that’s me above, Level 20!), but I see some interesting insights for adult learning practitioners.

With Pokemon Go, I observe in myself an interesting blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to learn and play, by design.

Intrinsic motivation -participating because you find it fun or personally rewarding- comes in part because you get outside, often with de-stressing effects – see this interesting article This is Your Brain On Nature. Parks and green spaces in cities have a high concentration “Pokestops”, where you can collect Pokeballs which you need to capture the monsters, and Gyms, where you fight and train.

You can also start a collection that doesn’t have any physical components or manifestation (no stuff or additional storage space needs – again brain calming – Marie Kondo would approve). And these little monsters, graphically interesting and beautifully rendered in the game, are virtually free except for your electricity bill as you need to charge your phone several times a day (and of course data, but it doesn’t take very much to play the game).

Extrinsic motivation (participating for an actual reward or prize) comes in part with the game’s leveling up system – this gives you something to work toward, both for the satisfaction of “progress” (intrinsic motivation), as well as for the label or badge, and also what comes as the reward (a great ball, hyper potion, etc. all useful in the game):

There are some other features too that tap into these things, are just fun or provide useful tools to continue progress in the game, or “bragging rights”, the latter of which cannot be underestimated (I am enjoying playing the game with my sons and seeing who can get the most unusual Pokemon, or level up first). There is definitely a social aspect to the game, believe it or not. I went into a “secret garden” behind the Parliament building in Copehagen at night on a recent work visit and witnessed legions of Pokemon Go players of all ages sitting around in the dark chatting and walking around that ethereal place, known locally to be a perfect hunting ground for rare Pokemon.

It’s not that big a stretch to ask yourself if there are lessons or tips that we learning designers can take from a game that gets learners to take their progress into their own hands and master something for themselves. Building in the motivational aspects, the visual interest, the social learning and the fun – these are not always traditional starting points for learning designers, but perhaps they should be! I think I’ll stop here…

(Note: It has taken me a little while to post this blog post, partially because I have been travelling with work non-stop for weeks, catching Pokemon from Hanoi to Seattle, and also because I was a little embarassed about how much I have been enjoying playing this simple game. For my efforts, I am now at Level 24!)

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