Monday, 1 August 2016

Playing Pokémon Go when chronically ill

One morning, about one year after I started Ravalation, I fell on the floor and couldn't get up again. It happened a few times that month, and ever since I'm experiencing chronic pain in my legs and extreme fatigue. An MRI scan revealed irreversible brain damage and from that moment onward it was clear my life would never be the same.

I will spare you the details of my journey onward, but for this article it's useful to mention that, as I had to give up most of the things I like doing, gaming suddenly became a more important part of my life than before. Physical activity makes me suffer more when in a lot of pain; gaming, however, requires little of it and creates a positive distraction so I am not aware of it as much. Due to my fatigue, I don't get out to meet people as much as I'd like anymore: I simply don't have the energy to spare. Voice chat allows me to still socialize with people on a regular base. I can definitely say gaming has saved me from isolation, in a way. But what about augmented reality?

If you read Ravalation regularly, you know that I loved the pokémon Game Boy games and that I couldn't wait to start playing Pokémon Go. There is one problem, though: the game revolves around moving around in the real, physical world to find pokémon, and it is necessary to walk distances to let eggs hatch. Because of this, I was a bit worried that I would not be able to enjoy the game. Nevertheless, I had to try. In this post I'll share my experiences of playing Pokémon Go while chronically ill. I am aware that everyone is affected differently by disabilities in some form or another and I definitely do not want to pretend that my story represents that of everyone in a similar situation! However, I could not write about my experience of playing Pokémon Go without mentioning my health: the two are strongly tied together. Thus I hope you'll forgive me that this post will be a bit more personal of nature than usual.

Finding pokémon at home, from left to right:
1) dratini in the garden; 2) koffing in the sleeping room; 3) weedle in my breakfast

Challenge 1: finding pokémon

My first fear was that it was going to be impossible to catch pokémon from the place I am at most: at home. As I get very fatigued from travelling, I basically only go out when necessary. But Rav, you might say, haven't you recently picked up running again? This I have, although I unfortunately haven't run in a month due to having a bad period. The point is, everything that requires some form of physical activity needs to be planned. Running outside on a whim to look for a pokémon that I really want to catch is out of the question: it means giving up on something else afterwards because I'd need to rest. Often I end up suddenly not having enough energy to do things that absolutely need doing (such as, say, make dinner), which can stress me out. There's only so much energy you can spend on a day. For these reasons I was afraid Pokémon Go would leave me either frustrated or exhausted.

This is where the good and the bad news comes in. First the good: you don't necessarily need to go out, because it is entirely possible to catch cool pokémon from your house! In my first two days of playtime, I managed to catch all the pokémon on the picture below from home. I've also seen notifications of squirtle, pikachu, eevee, horsea and vulpix, but I never managed to find them, alas.

The two day result of a newbie Pokémon Go player catching at home

Sure, there is an abundance of weedles, pidgeys and rattatas, but altogether there is a varied palette of pokémon: bug, water, flying, with the occasional psychic or poison types. I suspect having a brook and a lot of nature in my street helps with this.

Now the bad news: this is really down to luck. My friend Marinka has almost only rattatas spawn in her house. Sure, she has the most epic raticate ever by now, but she would be extremely bored if she'd only play from home.

Challenge 2: pokéballs

After a few days of happy catching, I discovered the real disadvantage of being chronically ill and playing Pokémon Go. Most healthy, working people will often pass by pokéstops on their way to work and back, cashing in new pokéballs without much effort. (NB Pokéstops are the only free way of getting pokéballs and you need those to catch pokémon.) For those of us that don't travel much (for instance if you, like me, study mostly from home) this becomes a problem: you simply run out of pokéballs. I'm continuously "pokéball starved" and need to undertake bicycle tours just to get pokéballs - which I cannot do often because of my chronic fatigue. As a result I only allow myself to catch pokémon I don't have yet. But not catching critters like Weedle and Pidgey means not evolving those either, causing me to lag behind with XP. And the lower level you are, the lower the combat power of the pokémon you're catching are.

I see two solutions to this problem: 1) spend a few bucks to buy a stack of pokéballs so you can catch anything you like; 2) practice your patience and accept that, once again, you have a disadvantage over other people and will just advance a bit slower than others. Personally, I'm on a tight budget, being a student, so I have to go for option 2.

From left to right: 1) Krabby climbing on Conrad's head while playing Pokémon Yellow on the Game Boy Advanced. The bugger got away because I ran out of pokéballs. 2) Poliwhirl showing up during my acolyte trials on Korriban. Surely this must be some sith trick. 3) Busted. I just needed this jigglypuff, okay? It gave me 1000 XP!

Challenge 3: hatching eggs

Another challenge is to get pokémon eggs to hatch: potentially the easiest way to advance your level for newbie players. Especially people with chronic fatigue or pain (like me) may have problems finding the energy to walk or run the 2 or 5 km per egg required to make it hatch. Driving doesn't count, because you'll go faster than 30 km/h (the max speed allowed for hatching eggs) most of the time.

My personal solution to this is to put Pokémon Go on while cycling, for instance when I'm going to get groceries. Cycling costs me much less energy than walking. But I'm lucky that I live in a flat and densely populated country with many cycling paths. I realize this may not work for everyone.

Another, more creative solution is letting your pet walk around with your pokémon eggs for you. Yes, people have actually been doing this! I just need to come up with the perfect poodle phone holder and all is settled. Saartje runs through the house all the time to keep track of where everyone is, so those kilometers should be done in no time!


Overall, I find myself enjoying Pokémon Go a ton, but, to be frank, if I wouldn't have all those nostalgic feelings for the Pokémon Game Boy games, I would probably not be playing it. Everyone else around you advancing faster and catching cooler pokémon than me is something I can accept (it still sucks, but you can comfort yourself by the fact that there will always be teens with too much time on their hands that would do so regardless), but it can be so disappointing not to be able to go out when you want to catch that one pokémon of fight that gym just because of your body not being able to... time and time again. I usually try to avoid activities that make me feel this way, because they make me focus on what I cannot do rather than on what I can. However, I'll make an exception for Pokémon Go, because the ability to "catch pokémon in the wild" just never gets old.

I have no clue if anyone reading this suffers from a chronic illness or another disability, but if you do, I'd love to hear your experiences with Pokémon Go. I've turned anonymous comments on.


  1. I'm sorry I don't have anything to add on the main subject of this post... but as soon as I saw the title I wanted to suggest that the stealth poodle could help you out - unfortunately I'm lame and of course that has already occurred to you. :P

    And what's up with that new Sith in training? Did you succumb to the DvL event after all? ;)

    1. I never said I was going to boycot the event? I would like to have the companion, although I'm not sure if I'll ever get that far (I'm not very grind resistant). The sith assassin is a LvD event duo leveling project together with Marinka. We both didn't have an evil inquisitor yet (it fits perfectly with the female voice acting!), and we can help each other through feeling bad for doing evil things - it's a lot of fun. :)

  2. I'm with Shin in that I don't have anything to add, but I hope that you can continue to enjoy Pokemon Go as much as you want.

    1. Thank you, I hope so, too! Unfortunately it seems they've now made it even harder to catch pokémon, meaning spilling more pokéballs and running out of them even quicker... I really hope they're going to increase the drop rate of pokéballs or something else to compensate, because right now the pokéball starvation is real!

  3. I echo the above comments. I don't play (largely as I don't have a mobile device capable of running it) but it's great that you are able to take part despite any challenges.

  4. Hopefully they will put out an update allowing people to transfer items, because I have gobs of pokeballs I will never use that I could send you. I happen to work in a downtown area near a bunch of pokestops. My issue is having the time to go around catching pokemon. They aren't very plentiful at my home and my lunch hour goes fast or is taken up by other things. So I think your catching history is quite an accomplishment for your limited mobility.

    1. My revives & potions for your pokéballs? Yes, please!! I really hope they will work on features like this (or even just one to communicate with other players). Since everyone seems to struggle with different aspects of the game, I think it would make the game more fun for everyone. :)

  5. I'm sorry to hear/learn that you have been suffering from a chronic illness, Rav. I'm glad to hear you are still enjoying the game, despite physically being able to move around a lot. A great idea that may help you, though, is to go on a day trip somewhere highly populated with many poke stops close together. People tend to put lures up (at least around where I live) in areas like that. That way you can sit in the grass or on a bench, enjoy the free lure, and catch pokemon without having to walk around and search for them

    1. I don't do a lot of day trips just for fun (I'm tired for days afterwards, so a 1 day trip is effectively a 3 day trip), BUT I have an appointment with my study advisor in Amsterdam in a few weeks that I'm already looking forward to. Not so much the appointment, but the prospect of passing by countless pokéstops and, hopefully, new pokémon species to catch. Thanks for your kind words. ^^

  6. What an awesome post! I love that this game was able to help you and distract you from the medical diagnosis. I'm sorry to hear about that.

  7. I have been told that if you contact Niantic (the makers of Pokemon Go) and let them know your disability situation, they can do something to make it easier for you. I'm not sure what it is as I haven't reached that level with my CFS yet, but I hope it's true. Thanks for posting this. I find it very encouraging as a fellow fatiguer that sometimes can't get around.


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