Why not Pokemon Go?

Feb. 5, 2020, 12:57 a.m.

People have all sorts of intellectual pleasures here. They unwind by reading dead French philosophers’ essays, building algorithms for social good or spending hours upon hours in the lab to quite literally cure cancer.

I play Pokemon Go.

It’s fun. The creatures are engaging. I’ve been successfully hooked since Pokemon Go’s genesis three and a half years ago, which is long enough for a toddler to start sticking their fingers into outlets. I’ve arguably spent hundreds of hours looking at the creatures, poking my Pikachus to watch them wiggle and hooking my phone onto my bike to walk the eggs until they hatch.

I do agree that I could have done so much with this time, but I chose to spend it on this — quietly and happily playing a kids’ game of cage fighting.

The game really is fun enough to overlook most of its aggressive features. On the other hand, well — I’m not sure what can be said in favor of animal cruelty.

Interestingly enough, my father’s concern with the game stemmed not from the possibilities of immoral animal treatment, but from my deriving pleasure from something that wasn’t real. According to him, non-fiction was more real than fiction because fiction simply stemmed from the imagination. And Pokemon? They were right out of a man’s fantasy. Now they are little bits of light dancing around on the phone screen. Intangible as they are, they are very real to me.

I don’t think pleasure has to be solely derived from things that will only benefit this world, nor do I think that fiction has to be lesser than nonfiction because it stems from the imagination. On the contrary, I think that fiction’s strength lies in its ability to conjure a world from the unreal, while nonfiction contents itself by manipulating the world it already has.

Sometimes mindless pleasure has its benefits. My brain cells can dance off into the wastelands left after a full day of class and I can, in my own turn, happily turn myself back on after a good five minutes or so.

I derive pleasure from this game. Therefore, I waste my brain cells playing it when I could be doing something else. To borrow a term from the economics course I managed to take this quarter, my utility from Pokemon Go is higher to me than reading philosophy or working to cure cancer. And while it does demonstrate extraordinary short-sightedness on my part, I’ve already budgeted my time to work the most I can on other things I care about.

I’m probably a hedonist. That’s fine. On the other hand, my stress relief, albeit incredibly unintellectual, is also fun and mostly harmless (although I’ll need to check with the Pokemon about that). 

Contact Angela Zhao at angezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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