Two years ago you couldn't go anywhere without seeing everyone—from schoolchildren to grown men—walking outside while holding their phones up and yelling every time they caught a virtual Pokémon. In Indonesia, Pokémon Go was such a hit that the government eventually banned the game within government complexes, because people were entering military headquarters and police stations to catch these goddamn monsters. The hype has gone down significantly since those halcyon days, but for many players, the chase has only just begun.
Pokémon Go has been downloaded 750 million times on Android since 2016 but in August 2017, Niantic, the company that developed the game, said there were only about 65 million active users across the globe. Today, only the most diehard players will set aside the normal life responsibilities like taking care of their toddler for what's really important—finally getting that super rare Gyarados. It's also still remarkably common for people to travel out of town—and even abroad—to catch monsters that aren't available where they live.
Muhammad Yusuf Akbar is one of them. The 29-year-old graphic designer spends five to six hours a day to play Pokémon Go. He told me that real-life interactions with other players is a big incentive—exploring new locations with like-minded people is half the point of the game.
"There’s a social factor to this game,” Akbar said. “You make a lot of new friends so you don’t get bored. It doesn’t happen every single time, but the game encourages the players to walk a lot. You get to explore places like different parks in Jakarta or recreational sites such as Ancol or Ragunan.”
Akbar ensured me he’s not just some casual player. Once, in pursuit of his target, he snuck into a 60-hectare golf course at night armed with only the flashlight on his phone. He’s also flown to Yogyakarta to catch several monsters.
“That’s nothing compared to players who travel overseas just to hunt exotic monsters unavailable here,” Akbar said.
Akbar did notice the decrease in number of players since Pokémon Go was released. One by one, the majority of his friends moved on. But this “natural selection,” as Akbar called it, distinguishes the real, dedicated players from the followers.
“The decreased number of players is not a problem,” Akbar said. “The remaining players are more active, and more solid, if anything.”
It’s difficult to get an exact number of active players in Jakarta today. Within a neighborhood like Blok M for example, you can spot more than a hundred of players in one day. But the Pokémon Go Jakarta Facebook group is still alive and well—there are only over a thousands members, but its timeline is constantly updated with introductions of new members and invitation for meet-ups.
In a way, the decline in Pokémon Go players makes it easier for the remaining ones to break the rules, too. Take Akbar’s friend, Mohamad Khaerul Fahmi. As a civil servant, he often catches Pokemon in his office building, though the ban still stands today.
“Those rules only applied during the days Pokémon Go was still booming,” Khaerul said lightly. “I play at the office all the time. As long as I don’t disturb other people, it’s not a problem.”
So what keeps people like Akbar and Khaerul loyal to the game when so many others have forgotten it like it never happened? Khaerul told me it’s the deep love for Pokemon that went above and beyond Pokémon Go. And it helps that the game’s developers constantly make new features in the game to encourage players to keep going, including Khaerul who spends hours a day on the game.
“It started out as a trend,” Khaerul said. “A lot of people got bored with it or got busy with other things in life. But I’ve always loved Pokemon, so I just go on.”