If you’ve followed my work for a while, you might be aware I put a lot of my recreational gaming time into something called Shiny Hunting in Pokémon games. The short version, creatures in the Pokémon series have a 1 in 4096 chance, at random, of having a different colour variant version of them appear. They don’t do anything special in terms of fighting ability, but they are rare and unique. There are ways to somewhat improve the odds of finding one, but no matter the method a lot of repetitive actions and luck are involved in finding a shiny.
Most people who play Pokémon games casually will never stumble across a shiny Pokémon in the course of regular gameplay. I am currently 85% of the way to having a shiny variant of every Pokémon ever released in the series.
When I tell people about the thousands of hours I have spent hunting down these rare Pokémon variants, often involving hours upon hours of just restarting the game every few minutes, their response will centre on the fact they can’t imagine doing so. They talk about how much patience I must have, or how dedicated I must be. I usually respond by talking about my own mental health conditions.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about shiny hunting and neurodiversity. We’re going to talk about some of the ways that shiny hunting has been a really healthy tool for managing my own mental health conditions, some of the ways shiny hunting methods can at times cause its own mental health stress, and some of the ways video games manipulate neurodiverse players that shiny hunting helps me to avoid.
I want to start this video by making it clear, up front, that I do not think that every person who gets heavily into shiny hunting in the Pokémon series is neurodiverse. There are many reasons someone might get into shiny hunting, this video is purely talking about my own specific experiences with this form of gaming.
So, a little about myself. I am autistic, and I have ADHD. I was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum a little over a decade ago, and diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year, for which I am now on medication. I have spent a lot of time this year learning to unpack my two overlapping conditions, and how the two seem to intersect with my love for shiny Pokémon hunting.
As someone on the autism spectrum, I find repetition and set collection really comforting. The world is unpredictable and ever changing, hard to account for, and overwhelming, and that causes me a lot of distress as someone whose brain is wired to crave routine and consistency. When I am stressed, like many autistic people, I engage in a behaviour called stimming, where I repeat certain physical movements over and over to create a sense of predictability in the chaos. When I am at rest and craving that predictability, I turn to shiny hunting.
A recent shiny hunt I have been engaging in that sums this up well is shiny hunting for Dialga in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. This is a soft reset shiny hunt, meaning there is no way to improve my odds above 1 in 4096, I just have to save next to the encounter, start the fight, see if it’s shiny, and if not close the game and reopen it to try again. It’s extremely repetitive, doing nothing but restarting a game over and over, taking 45 seconds per attempt. Statistically, this should take me around 50 hours of real world time to find this shiny, but with zero guarantee of that. I could reset the game for longer than most people spend on their full playthrough of the story mode and never find the shiny I am looking for, but all that time I am repetitively working toward a goal, doing the same thing over and over, with the pretence of an end goal to keep me going.
Beyond the joy and calm of repetition, I have always loved the Pokémon series as an autistic gamer due to its focus on set collection. Filling in the missing gaps in a collection is deeply satisfying, but to do so in a Pokémon game always leaves me wanting more. It’s never a big enough challenge to keep me going from one Pokémon release to the next. Shiny hunting being such a time consuming process means there’s always a new elusive Pokémon hiding away somewhere I can go looking for if the desire arises.
So, what about ADHD? Well, ADHD is a condition that stems from a lack of the reward chemical dopamine in the brain, that can cause a variety of issues as a result. I’ve always been very impulsive due to my ADHD, and one of the ways that manifests is a desire to gamble and take risks. When constantly dopamine starved, rolling the dice and seeing what happens is a great way to get quick fleeting hits of a chemical most people take for granted as being present. It’s like offering someone who’s dehydrated alcohol – it’s not a healthy solution, but it’s incredibly hard to turn down when your body needs liquid.
No matter what shiny hunting method you pick in a Pokémon game, there is a heavy dose of randomisation and dopamine reward doling out through the process. Take for example Brilliant Diamond and Shing Pearl’s Radar Chaining. You’ve got whatever the odds are of finding the Pokémon you want to shiny hunt, then you have to successfully win 40 rolls of an invisible dice with 93% success rates each time, but when compounded that means you have a 5% chance of successfully doing all 40 of those rolls back to back, to then get a 1 in 99 chance at a given shiny Pokémon. Every one of those dice rolls will probably let you progress, so there’s frequent little dopamine rewards, but you’re unlikely to make it all the way to the jackpot of a shiny Pokémon, so getting there gives that big dopamine reward.
While dopamine seeking has been much less of an issue for me since getting my ADHD diagnosed and medicated, if anything that contrast has only helped to make it more obvious the kind of role Shiny Hunting was playing in my life as a coping mechanism for my condition.
While shiny hunting in Pokémon is far from the only way video games can scratch these particular mental health needs, it is one of the only video game series where this need can be scratched without the risk of real money spending on randomised rewards being involved. Most of the video game industry ties these kinds of repetitive actions with rare rewards behind spending real money, which in the past has caused issues for me. Before I got into Shiny Hunting, I for a while got very into the online hero shooter Overwatch, which contained real money loot boxes, randomised rewards, and time limited outfit releases. The combination of my desire to repetitively do actions, complete collections, and gamble for a chance on something rare led to me spending real world money I could not afford trying to complete time limited randomised outfit sets. I had to stop playing Overwatch because it used the same risk and reward mechanisms found in shiny hunting, but put them behind repetitive real world money spending. When real money is involved these kinds of mechanics go from being a fun distraction to a stressful financial sink hole of obsession.
This all said, I do not want to paint shiny hunting as a wholly positive experience in my life, as it has been something I have had to work to keep in check at times.
In some Pokémon games, such as Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, the best shiny hunting methods do not allow the player to stop what they are doing and play something else mid shiny hunt. In that game, you would need to capture more than thirty of the same species of Pokémon in a row, without interruption, to get your shiny odds for that species down to around 1 in 300, then walk around until you were lucky enough to see a shiny. 1 in 300 is pretty great odds compared to 1 in 4096, but that might still be many hours of searching. During those hours of hunting you could not leave the area you were in, close the game, turn the console off, exit to trade, or basically do anything else at all with your game console, or the chain would disappear, and your elevated shiny odds with it. All the work you had done to reach those elevated odds would vanish. You couldn’t reach those good odds, save the game, and try and find your 1 in 300 odds shiny later, you do it now or never.
This, at times, caused me some real distress. I would have times where I wanted to play other games, but fell victim to the sunk cost fallacy, becoming torn between my compulsion to complete the shiny hunt, and my desire to do something else. It was upsetting and distressing, and took some time to work out how to emotionally and mentally process without distress. I get that the Pokémon Company wants shiny Pokémon to be rare and elusive, and saving your elevated odds state would make them much easier to find, but the end result is still distressing for me sometimes with my specific mental health conditions.
That said, some shiny hunting methods in some games in the series do alleviate this somewhat. If you don’t want to shiny hunt Dialga right away in Brilliant Diamond when the game tries to force you, you can knock it out, complete the story, and it will come back later to shiny hunt in your own time for example. In addition, shiny hunts like Pokéradar Chaining in the new Gen 4 Remakes put most of their randomisation on the journey to full odds, not once you have them. At most, getting a radar chain of 40 to get max shiny odds will take you under an hour, with only a one in 20 chance you’ll make it that far without the chain breaking and giving you a convenient stopping point. If you reach that point, you can pretty safely get a shiny within 10-15 minutes. You spend a lot less time in the “I have my best odds, I need to stick around” zone, and as result will usually at least once an hour, probably much more frequently, reach a point where your luck didn’t work out and you can quit without feeling the sunk cost fallacy pulling at you.
My relationship with shiny hunting in the Pokémon series has at times been a little wobbly, but ultimately it has always been a comforting place to engage with my specific mental health needs, that feels safe to spend my time. It’s a way for me to engage in repetitive actions that are seen as somewhat acceptable, sort of productive, and do not risk my financial stability.
As long as shiny hunting is a mechanic in Pokémon games, they will be a place where I can go for harmless repetitive rolls of a dice, with my reward being an ever growing collection of creatures that, like me, are a little bit rare, unique, and special in their own way.
That said, if you’ve got duplicate shiny Pokémon you want to trade, hit me up haha