The gameplay of Pokémon Sleep is incredibly simple, and the art and explanations are likewise straightforward. You meet Professor Neroli, who is studying Snorlax—specifically their Drowsy Power—which attracts Pokémon and causes them to fall asleep. Working with Neroli and a friendly local Snorlax, you attempt to fill out your Pokédex, taking photos of the Pokémon that wander into your campsite. The game monitors your sleep, combines a sleep score with the Snorlax’s power, and reveals the Pokémon that showed up while you were sleeping! Then, during the day, you feed Snorlax, increase its power, and at night you monitor your sleep again and see how your efforts paid off.
It’s very laid back. There are a limited number of things you can do in the app, and it feels a lot like the away-from-keyboard latent gameplay that’s popular on free mobile apps. Additionally, one of the clever bits of game design I appreciated is that every week you set up a new campsite on a new island with a new Snorlax—essentially resetting your Snorlax score and allowing new players to feel like they’re operating at nearly the same level as early adopters. You are allowed to keep companion pokémon and your Pokédex from week to week, so you don’t lose everything. The art is also very charming, with cute, flattened Pokémon snoozing away and a campsite setup that is centred around feeding Snorlax as much as possible.
It’s a little bit like Pokémon Snap and Animal Crossing mushed together in mobile form. It doesn’t have a ton of community features, which is probably for the best, considering that I don’t think anyone really wants to have the bartender check up on how badly they slept after a night on the town, but you can connect with other friends. After a quick explanation of how it all works, the technology that it utilizes, and a couple “tips” on how to make the most of your experience, we were shuffled off to our respective hotel rooms to test out the game.
I just want to state, for the record, that Pokémon Sleep confirmed for me what I knew all along. I’m great in bed. Well, I’m great at sleeping, at least according to the accelerometer built into the Samsung phone I was given. Pokémon Sleep works in the same way a lot of sleep trackers work—by using the built-in accelerometers in modern smartphones to track movement. The game is pretty simple. You boot it up just before you go to bed, you place it face down on your bed—not under your pillow or under blankets, and you forget about it. (You can also purchase the Pokémon GO Plus + device to automatically track your sleep and connect this game to Pokémon GO, which will provide small benefits to your campsite.)
In the morning, you open the app; it shows you your sleep cycle based on the accelerometer readings, gives you a cute little flowchart, and allows you to interact with the Pokémon that have popped up overnight. If you want to keep one of the Pokémon that have been drawn to Snorlax’s Drowsy Power, you have to feed it Pokébiscuits. The ones you don’t feed run back into the island, and you then commence with feeding Snorlax meals, which you can do three times a day at specific times, coinciding with breakfast, lunch, and dinner times according to your timezone.
The whole thing is, on a whole, harmlessly sweet. There’s no combat, no tension, no competition even. There’s no skill, no way to get better at the game, just… an interactive app that responds to what it imagines your sleep is like based on average accelerometer readings. Pokémon Sleep is a cozy collector, where you hope to wake up to find a Growlithe in “crackling sleep” next to a massive Snorlax. Imagine going into a gachapon store, sleeping in the middle of all the machines, and waking up to five new best PokéFriends.
Pokemon Sleep isn’t intended to be a “health app,” but it operates using much of the same terminology and technology. It’s a low-stakes, digital curio cabinet that seems like an adorable addition to the mobile games Pokémon has been putting out for the past decade or so. But there’s something just… slightly off about the idea of the game, the core of it: to gamify sleep. It’s not enough that every waking hour be occupied by entertainment, now our sleep has to be a kind of entertainment as well. What happens when we start thinking about living as an act to be gamified at every level? What do we need to distract ourselves from that might allow a game like Pokémon Sleep to become our new favourite game?
I think that it might take more than just one night sleeping next to a phone that is latently playing an AFK game concurrent to my sleep cycle to really dive into the cultural implications of what it means to gamify even the restful parts of life. I mean, it’ll probably take a dissertation or two, but the questions that I had after I dutifully took pictures of Growlithe and Charmander remain: is it just a game? Is this a game at all? What does this kind of game, which basically incentivises a cycle where where Pokémon Sleep is the last thing you do before you go to sleep and the first thing you reach for when you wake up, do to us, as humans? I’m not sure that much is gained by collecting images of randomly appearing digital monsters, but… it is cute. Try it out for a week. Maybe it’ll help you sleep.
Pokémon Sleep is available now.
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