Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week. There’s a phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm: Pokemon GO.
It has accomplished something the fitness industry and Michelle Obama haven’t been able to do.
It’s made people who are usually sedentary far more active.
Days after the release, Gizmodo found hundreds of people on Twitter complaining of sore legs and admitting they haven’t biked, walked, or ran that much in years.
Why are more people getting active and hyped over Pokemon GO than boot camps, yoga, weight lifting, or Zumba?
For one, it’s familiar and 90’s kids fucking love nostalgia.
If they retitled Ninja Warrior to Legends of the Hidden Temple, you’d have a whole lot more people training to compete in that, trust me.
But, as much as I love nostalgia (I’m a 90s kid after all), that’s not why Pokemon GO has become a huge sensation.
Pokemon captured our imaginations almost 20 years ago, because, like most great stories, it followed the archetype of The Hero’s Journey.
This archetype is the oldest and most replicated form of storytelling in the world.
It All Goes Back to Campbell
Joseph Campbell was a scholar, writer, and lecturer who spent his academic life studying and teaching mythology.
He discovered that the stories, dramas, and myths told throughout human history followed a common pattern. It didn’t matter if the myth was Greek, Norse, or Mesopotamian they all followed a similar structure.
A person known as The Hero ventures out into the world facing great trials and battles and achieves great deeds on behalf of his people.
Gilgamesh, Hercules, Beowulf, Captain America, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and, yes, even Ash Ketchum follow the model of The Hero’s Journey.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how The Hero’s Journey applies to Pokemon.
Side note, basically, the best games ever made fit this archetype (Zelda, Mario, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, Half-Life, etc
The Pokemon Master’s Journey
The Ordinary World
This is the beginning of the story where the audience first meets “The Hero” character.
We’re thrust into their world, their problems, and connected with them on some sympathetic level.
In Pokemon, after entering your name into the game, your journey begins in your room.
This room has a bed, a dresser, a computer, and a television with a SNES. All these are items that you as the player probably had in your room.
Your house and the village it resides in within the game feels like a world you know.
Now you’re connected to this world.
The Call to Adventure
Here “The Hero” is presented with a problem, an adventure, or some form of a challenge.
Professor Oak fulfills this by challenging you to build your Pokedex and become the next Pokemon Master.
Refusal of the Call
In most myths, “The Hero” will refuse the call to adventure at first. For example in Star Wars, Luke refuses Obi-Wan’s proposal to go with him and returns home.
Refusal of the call can also come from another character expressing uncertainty or danger ahead.
As you try and leave town, Professor Oak stops you, warning that wild Pokemon live in tall grass.
Meeting with the Mentor
The mentor is the wise old man who encourages “The Hero” to embark on his journey or bestows a magical weapon to him.
Yet again, Professor Oak fulfills this by entrusting you with your first Pokemon.
Crossing the Threshold
In mythology, this is the moment where “The Hero” sets out on his quest and the adventure begins.
This is accomplished in Pokemon by battling your rival and then heading out of town into the unknown.
Allies, Enemies, and Trials
Once “The Hero” has entered the special world, now he must survive the wild, face tests and challenges, and meet and make friends along his way.
At first, wild Pokemon are enemies, but by capturing them become allies.
Your trials come in the form of, not only battles with wild Pokemon, but with other trainers you meet on the road, gym leaders, and encounters with the evil Team Rocket.
In myths, this is where “The Hero” finds a dangerous place, often a cave, where a hidden treasure lies.
Think the Death Star in Star Wars or the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.
In Pokemon, the treasure you seek come in the form of gym badges. You need to gain these before you can advance to battle in the Pokemon League.
This is the moment in all myths where“The Hero” faces the dragon in the cave and is faced with death.
In the case of Pokemon, the ordeal is your gym battle.
Pokemon gyms will test the skills you’ve gained on your journey.
Your Pokemon may “die” (faint) during battle. But it’s you who has to use strategy and the tools you’ve gained along the way to defeat the Gym Leader.
In mythology, the reward is the treasure “The Hero” receives after surviving the ordeal. This can come in the form of a magical item, an elixir with special properties, or a token like the Holy Grail.
Defeat the gym leader in Pokemon and your reward is a gym badge.
The Road Back
Here “The Hero” is chased by his enemies for the treasure he’s won from the cave.
Think Luke, Han, and Leia dashing back to Yavin with the Death Star battle plans.
In Pokemon, you’re chased throughout the game by Team Rocket.
Resurrection & Return with the Elixir
Resurrection is the moment in myths where “The Hero” is transformed and changed by his experience.
Once you’ve defeated all the gym leaders in Pokemon you’re (in a sense) transformed by your experience.
But you’re still not a Pokemon Master yet.
You still face one more daunting task: The Pokemon League and the Pokemon Champion.
Once “The Hero” transforms from his old self. He must return to the ordinary world with the treasure or knowledge he’s received. He may face one final battle after this as well.
Your most challenging battle in Pokemon comes when you face the Elite Four and then The Pokemon Champion.
Once you defeat these last trainers. You become an official Pokemon Master and you and your Pokemon are then entered into the Hall of Fame.
Christopher Vogler sums up the Hero’s Journey like this:
The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE. He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES, and ENEMIES. He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL. He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world. He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience. He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.
The Power of Storytelling
My good friend, mentor, and Joseph Campbell expert, John Romaniello, said during my interview with him on my podcast that not only did Campbellian structure work well for his first New York Times best-selling book, Man 2.0 Reengineering the Alpha, but that Campbellian structure can be used for personal development, business, relationships, basically, anything in life that you want to be better at can be viewed through the lens of The Hero’s Journey.
That’s why millions of people are out hunting down Pokemon, battling in local gyms, and posting photos online, because Pokemon GO allows us to tell a story.
We as a species love to tell stories because they remind us of the important things in life.
The Hero’s Journey has been teaching men and women for millennia how to face adversity and conquer it. It’s reminded generations of the most vital virtues, warned against the snares of evil, but most importantly, The Hero’s Journey reminds us of what it feels like to be alive.
All my life, I’ve been accepting the call to adventure in video games. I’ve journeyed through digital landscapes to fight dragons, save princesses, or become a Pokemon Master.
It’s that journey, that desire to be the best like no one ever was, to live the life of a hero that has made gaming so important, not only for myself but for millions of others.
We’re inundated daily with images of turmoil, war, famine, disease, and death.
But in these digital landscapes, we can be a hero. We can become something greater than ourselves.
A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. – Joseph Campbell
That’s why millions of us have freaked out over Pokemon GO.
In a world where people are clamoring for meaning, purpose, and belonging, Pokemon GO has reminded us that we can give our lives to something greater.
A few months ago this phrase burst into my mind:
I wasn’t raised on video games. Video games raised me.
Hardwork, perseverance, “hustle”, teamwork, persistence, problem-solving, creativity, competition, leadership, organization (still leveling up this one), resource/time management, and morality all these I learned from video games.
I needed every one of these skills in my quest for better health and fitness.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, to feel better, or if you wanna look really great naked, I believe gamers have an advantage over the rest of the world when it comes to achieving those goals.
We already know what it’s like to take on the mantle of “The Hero”. We’ve saved princesses, stopped alien invasions, or become Pokemon Masters.
Become The Hero
For nearly 20 years, Pokemon has captured the hearts and imaginations of kids all over the world.
Pokemon GO has taken it a step further by transforming our ordinary world into a special one. Backyards now house Pikachus, grocery stores are filled with Zubats, and Pidgeys plod around parking lots from Boston to San Jose.
Most importantly, it’s filled millions with the desire, and hope, that they can be something larger than themselves.
That’s what The Hero’s Journey ultimately teaches us. That if we’re open to the call and accept it, we can become something greater than ordinary. We can become Heroes.