What Pokemon Go has Taught Me About Misinformation and Myth

I’ve been catching ’em all since my first translucent purple Gameboy (because that was obviously the best color), and  while awaiting the launch of Pokemon Sun and Moon, I’ve been consumed by Pokemon Go. I joined forums, walked more than I  ever have, and started researching the best strategies for  evolving and  selecting my ideal team. While on my search for the  perfect Ninetails and Dragonaire (even though Dragonite is stronger, Dragonaire is so much more my aesthetic) I amassed more than a few spreadsheets and lists of move sets, base stats, and  everything in-between. In the month since it’s been released, I noticed my local Pokemon Go forum devolve from a few key members positing theories, confirming  spawn locations, and sharing pictures and  anecdotes to a cacophony of voices asking  the  same handful of questions and spreading untested hearsay about how the game works. This fascinates and frightens me  because the correct information is readily available and indisputable, and if this sort of simple information becomes warped, one can imagine how complex, ambiguous issues like healthcare or immigration become so quickly corrupted.

From what I’ve observed, the biggest culprit is an overabundance of  information paired with a dirth of research. This idea is not new, and I won’t  bore you with trite musings about the  value of research and the double-edged sword of the proliferation of data in the  internet age. What I found interesting is how this  develops and why. As newer or more casual players started using the forum, it became the sole reference for some of those members.  As membership grew, reverberations echoed half-remembered information around the forum in the worst example of recycling. 

Members traded personal anecdotes they promised to be predictive so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised by a post connecting time of day and the color of one’s phone case to a Pokemon’s strength. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of causation and correlation. And lo, mythology and  superstition are born. Just because something appears to work, doesn’t mean that such is the case. Because the game is so bare, I understand that some would look for tricks, shortcuts, and hidden knowledge; people want to believe that they found the secret key, like solving the mystery before the novel is over. There are legitimate Easter eggs yet to be discovered, so say the developers, but trying to find them takes much more trial and  error than experiencing coincidence and proclaiming it law.

A surprising many members assumed a bias in the game. Though players hatch randomly generated eggs, many felt it unfair that they didn’t find the ones they wanted, and while the game is admittedly flawed, some conspiracy minded players go so far to assume Niantic is purposefully keeping their servers down. While one could find out how the  game  determines certain outcomes,  others are simply random. It’s like complaining that the shuffle function on a playlist doesn’t consistently bring up the desired song. 

This mirrors the way many interact with more complex topics like politics or science. Those who rely on the  interpretation of others remind me of  people who watch pop-news without checking unbiased sources;  assuming personal connection, conspiratorial theories, and false correlations is much easier to swallow than a trudge into the weeds. This propensity towards gossip, myth, and parroting unconfirmed data seems to be built into the DNA of humans’ interaction with information. So, if you wonder why I’m so dedicated to debunking stupid theories about a casual gaming app, to the point that it is slightly disruptive to my daily life, it’s because if there’s a chance this could even slightly change someone’s  attitudes towards research and  hearsay, it’s worth it.  

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