Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pokemon and Facebook: A Non-Professional Study

So Pokemon week has come to a close, and the hype of Pokemon Black and White has started to wane. Yet a couple weeks after and possibly for months to come, most of us are still playing the game. It's addictive and it makes us keep coming back for more. It's the kind of game you can play for five minutes or five hours and still get the same experience. You could say it's almost like... A Facebook game.

Now before you start tossing Pokeblocks through my window with death threats tied to them, think about it. Pokemon and your average Facebook game have very similar methods to get you addicted.

1. Rewards
We all love getting rewarded for our efforts. Whether it's through a pay raise or just seeing the ending to an incredibly hard game. Of course, some games are just a never-ending stream of little rewards, all culminating to a promised larger reward. It's this carrot-on-a-stick method that keeps us playing. Every time you get an item or level up a Pokemon, you hear a satisfying jingle as you feel like you accomplished something despite putting in no effort. MMOs do this too, as well as modern multiplayer-centric games such as Call of Duty and Lost Planet 2 (Damn that slot machine...), but it's boldly apparent on many Facebook games. Even if the gameplay amounts to clicking a button and seeing results, the game makes you feel you're accomplishing something.

2. Socializing
Pokemon has been a social game even from the beginning. The creator pretty much expected you to have a friend with a different version so you could trade and battle. The later games of the series expanded on this, with Pokemon contests, minigames, and even the C-Gear. In fact, the C-Gear is the most Facebook-esque feature in the Pokemon games. Anybody who has it on can see people nearby playing the game, with the ability to send messages, register friends, and even perform surveys on nearby people. There's even rewards for connecting with other people, in the form of Thanks and the Sweet Heart items as well as giving you better items for Black City and White Forest.

3. Status updates! Status updates! Status updates!
Although this can fall into the last point, I feel it's big enough to be a separate thing. The option of mixing records made the world feel a bit more interconnected. Watching the television after mixing records gave you an update of some of the things your friends had done, almost like those status messages on Facebook saying your friend got a golden hen in Farmville... The main difference here is that the updates are only focused on the Pokemon game itself, but like the updates, can be ignored.

4. Time
What's the single most important thing you put into a game in order to get results? The amount of time you spend on it. Pokemon is far from being an exception. Many people have been known to grind against a single type of Pokemon for hours on end just to increase hidden stats, or just go around and train their monsters. Either way, it's pretty much the same thing: Push button, receive results. This loops back to my first point, the Rewards. Facebook games and Pokemon games keep rewarding you to push onwards, investing more and more time to keep playing the game. Only difference is, Pokemon doesn't have many obligations. If you put down the game for a month, your Pokemon won't grow old and die, your items will still be there, and the Elite Four will still want to battle you. There are daily events, but they're repeatable and aren't lost forever. Games like Farmville and even Animal Crossing tend to have those time-limited obligations. If you don't come back to the game every so often, you'll come back to withered crops and an empty town.

Other thoughts...
Many Facebook games require you to pay real-life money to get anywhere in the game and get these rewards. Pokemon just requires you to buy the game to get access to all of its content. Of course, if you want all the Pokemans, you have to buy both, so I guess it's kind of the same thing...

Pokemon is largely a social game by nature. The population density in Japan is high enough that you can bump into several people who have the game. Of course, the opposite is true overseas, where unless if you're at a densely populated area or at college, you won't find many people playing. When you do, it's interesting how sociable people can get about Pokemon. Many talk about their team as if they were real life animals, or ask one another how far they are in the main story, or even just gush about this one monster they caught that became their newest favorite almost instantly. Pokemon Black and White are very fun games, and improve on their predecessors by a lot, but it's still apparent that the games are much more enjoyable with somebody else than by yourself.

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