GO: Pokémon and Motivation

The phenomenon of the latest incarnation of Pokémon is hard to escape. Even if you don’t play, your sidewalks have seen new traffic from would-be Pokémon masters.

The lengths that players go to for their Pokémon has surprised even the players themselves:


What has gotten thousands of people to leave modern comforts in search of imaginary creatures? Where did the motivation come from?

The explosion of interest in the game has led some to suspect a deeper power behind it:

There are no fewer than 5 theories of conspiracies to explain how influential this game has become.


Theories like these pop up because motivation is so mysterious.

Who among us hasn’t marveled at tales of people with amazingly powerful motivation?

Who among us hasn’t caught a glimpse of it, only for it to run off without a trace?

Who among us hasn’t in desperation tried that supposed secret hack to get it?


How did Pokémon GO capture such an elusive creature?

How can I?


Here are the key insights that Pokémon GO gives us about motivation:


Motivation comes from simple pleasures

The App

Have you wondered why the game highlights the original 151 Pokémon? Those characters were introduced decades ago – long before the generation of apps. They have so many newer Pokémon to choose from with recent advertising to pair with.

I believe that they chose the Red/Blue generation because it is what most of us played first and at a young age. These Pokémon remind of us of a simpler time – a time when we saw what we wanted and went for it. That attitude – free of excuses and complications – is what makes great players.

The Application

The same attitude works for personal motivation. We often worry about what is efficient or in line with our image. We are taught that we should pursue lofty ideals and align all our desires to principles. In reality, our strongest motivators are often the simplest and childlike. Financial security is a great goal, but it doesn’t whet the appetite for hard work like the prospect of a 60” TV. Don’t ignore a motivator simply because it seems beneath you. It might be just what you need to get out the door.


Exploration leads to motivation

The App

Pokémon has always been about exploration. The young trainer sets out on a journey where the next road or town or Pokémon is a mystery. The only way to solve the mystery is to go out and lay eyes on it. This app has done the same thing, giving players the joy of discovering not only the game – but their own neighborhoods.

The Application

Often we forget the importance of exploration and curiosity. It feels like a bunch of dead ends that distract from our responsibilities. But in the moment, we are inspired and excited. We call upon our bravery and determination just to see what is next. The drive to explore keeps us on our toes and leads us to all manner of unforeseen possibilities. Exploration – literally or mentally – will keep our motivation fresh and alive.


The unexpected is motivating

The App

The one that got away. Every Pokémon trainer knows that feeling. They also know another feeling: I caught it with my first Pokeball! Catching Pokémon has always always had an element of chance that can help you or betray you. The random appearance and capture success rate of Pokémon with this AR game lay out the luck element obviously. It keeps the game exciting: you never know how close you are to something you want.


Surprise is a crucial part of all entertainment — it is at the root of humor, strategy, and problem solving. Our brains are hardwired to enjoy surprises.

Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design


The Application

One of the quirks of motivation is that success isn’t as strong of a motivator as a chance of success. You would think for sure that the sure thing would be a good motivator. Why would someone prefer a risky opportunity when a perfectly dependable one exists?

If dependable success was what really drove people, then the hottest app would be for stamp collecting, not Pokémon collecting. Running would be the most popular sport – not football. History books would be just as riveting as Game of Thrones.

Our brain likes dependability because it helps us sleep at night – but surprise is what wakes it up. The unexpected fires up our minds to figure out the anomaly and take advantage of it. Without the surprise, we sink into complacency. There is no need for the brain to charge up when surrounded by known patterns. Sometimes motivation is found in those unforeseen circumstances that you have been avoiding.


Motivation pairs with competition

The App

“I want to be the very best – like no one ever was.” Competition shines through Pokémon from the start of the theme song. The current incarnation is no exception. The king-of-the-hill element of the gyms keeps constant challenge to your victories.

The Application

Competition spurs us to try a little harder than we feel like. Exposing ourselves to challenge can be scary, but sometimes it is exactly what we need to find our motivation.


Community nurtures motivation

The App

Pokémon GO connects everyone who plays it. Even if you don’t play side-by-side, you are connected in a player-driven world. But much of the heart of the game lies in the random encounters on the street with the stories that unfold.


The Application

A sense of community helps us to step out of our shell and reach for something beyond. Look for communities around your interests and issues. When you don’t feel alone, you are one step closer to achievement.


I hope this guide helps you to turn your tenacity as a Pokémon trainer to your real world endeavours.


Adventurer, what do you think?