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The Psychology of Pokémon Go – Augmented Reality Creates ‘Augmented Self’

Within a week of launch, the location-based augmented-reality game Pokémon Go already enjoys more daily active users in the US than Twitter, more minutes per user than Facebook, and has supplanted Candy Crush as the most successful mobile game of all time. The formula seems simple – take an old mobile game developed by Google (Ingress) and slap on a popular franchise with a track record in viral success (Pokémon, Pokémon cards…).

But Ingress – now rebranded as Pokémon Go – also sports the three critical success factors identified by psychologists for successful games. It’s the ARC of happiness again – games have greater appeal if they promote a sense of Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence – the three psychological drivers of human happiness according to the much-researched and influential self-determination theory.

  • Pokémon Go promotes a sense of autonomy by opening the door to an augmented world, and empowering you to explore freely. In other words, the game promotes a sense of self-navigation, of individual autonomy. In other words, augmented reality creates an ‘augmented-self’ (or extended-self)
  • Pokémon Go fosters a sense of relatedness – feeling connected to others – with both in-game social interaction and by providing a new (conversation-worthy) but inclusive experience with few barriers to entry. The free-to-play, easy-to-play formula can create a sense of ‘we’ relatedness through a cultural activity that has conversational currency. We play Pokémon Go and we feel part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • Pokémon Go builds a sense of competence with challenges, achievements,  levels, feedback and rewards. Providing players with an enhanced sense of competence and mastery (sometimes in stark contrast to the real world that knock us down time after time) is a standard game mechanic that has been linked to increased levels of participation)

Whether Pokémon Go points to the augmented-future of OOH (out of home advertising) and installation art – thought-provoking virtual installations on and in landmarks that you see via your digital eyes – remains to be seen (but check out this video).  But say hello to the Augmented-Reality game Pokémon Go, and you’ll be saying hello to your Augmented-Self.


Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.