It's Not Easy Being Yellow

In which we consider the challenges of and the reasons for making the “wrong” color choice in Pokemon Go.

I've been following my wife and daughters around as they play Pokemon Go for the last three weeks, and it seems pretty clear to me that of the three teams that players can choose from, Team Valor (red), Team Mystic (blue), and Team Instinct (yellow), that it is Instinct that largely gets the shaft.

From what I've read, red-blue dominance in Pokemon Go seems the norm around the country. I've heard that there are pockets of blue-yellow dominance, but around where I live, this seems an unlikely turn of events. Indeed, there are a number of internet memes that suggest that yellow is the team that struggles with membership and gym dominance.

At any given moment, when one pulls up the in-game map in my area, if you take a look at the gyms close by, they are usually red or blue with nary a yellow in sight. I personally live in a house divided. My wife is Team Blue, my oldest daughter is Team Red, and her younger sister is Team Yellow, the red headed stepchild of Pokemon Go, which is probably why I'm rooting for her and really rooting for Team Yellow. It's fun to root for the underdog.

I think color choice is interesting in games generally. Last year I wrote a rather lengthy essay called ”I Am Blue” about the aesthetic and practical values assigned to choosing a color to play games regularly as. While colors don't really have inherent meaning, we assign value to them culturally and personally, and as a result, they do take on importance through that symbolic value on the macro and micro level. The lack of players signing up to play yellow seems interesting to me in this regard.

In the aforementioned article “I Am Blue”, I briefly mentioned a friend of mine's preference for yellow. I didn't mention, though, why he prefers yellow. He has mentioned to me a couple of times that many years ago, he began picking yellow because whenever he played games, no one else ever wanted to be yellow. As a pretty serious board gamer, it was important to him that he would always be able to easily recognize himself and his board position while playing a game. Sticking to one color no matter what game you are playing, of course, makes doing so much easier. I should know, after all, that is one of a number of reasons that I identify myself with the color blue in games.

However, my friend isn't wrong, getting blue isn't always the easiest thing to do in a game. A lot of people seem to want it.

Despite offering players the choice of team colors in a seemingly fair way, all three primary colors represent the three teams, Team Instinct may ironically have human instinct stacked against it. A number of studies in psychology have considered the phenomenon of color preference, and yellow doesn't fare well in those studies. Take, for example, this quick summation of color preference from the abstract of W. Ray Crozier's 1999 study “The Meaning of Colour: Preferences among Hues”:

Colour preferences have both scientific significance and relevance to manufacturers. Despite claims that these preferences are unsystematic and that saturation and brightness exert more influence on judgements than hue, a substantial body of research suggests that the rank order of preference for hues ‐- blue, red, green, violet, orange, yellow ‐- emerges with some degree of consistency and, in particular, blue is regularly preferred to other hues.

While this kind of preference among humans for certain colors seems generally true, it is also true that there are outliers (my daughter, who chose Team Yellow, has always reported her favorite color to be yellow) and that sometimes certain groups of people will violate Crozier's breakdown of color preference. See, for example, Karen B. Schloss, Rosa M. Poggesi, and Stephen E. Palmer's ”Effects of University Affiliation and 'School Spirit' on color Preference: Berkeley vs. Stanford”, a study that makes me wonder if, perhaps, San Diego, home of the yellow and blue emblazoned San Diego Chargers, might be one of the areas of the country where yellow-blue dominance in Pokemon Go might occur.

A form of tribalism exists in the concept of teams and in the concept of team formation and in color preference, as things like football teams and Pokemon Go players, perhaps, illustrate. That the conception of who someone is based on what team they have declared for (red, blue, or yellow), once again, seems obvious to me in internet memes concerning Valor, Mystic, and Instinct.

I pissed a woman off the other night (actually the first time I have actually seen anyone get rankled while playing Pokemon Go when I made an offhandish and what I thought was a sympathetic reference to Team Yellow. I had heard that Niantic is, perhaps, planning on special events to make the three legendary bird pokemon that are also the emblems of Valor, Mystic, and Instinct available to players. I was explaining that rumor had it that these events would feature three way team fights with the victorious team being awarded the bird associated with their team. I sighed and said, “So, I guess Yellow won't be getting their legendary pokemon any time soon”. To which the woman responded angrily, “EXCUSE ME?!?” Here I thought I was just commenting on the dearth of yellow players in our area, but I had evoked an instinctive tribal loyalty in someone playing a game and being a member of a team for only a couple of weeks. Living as I do in Wisconsin, this is much like announcing you are a Vikings fan in a sports bar during a Packers game. Things can get ugly really fast.

As I said, though, as a non-player, I have personally assigned myself the role of cheerleader for Team Instinct. Yellow has become the color of the underdog to me, and I always like supporting the underdog. A few of us were up playing Pokemon Go on the local university campus the other night, hanging out near a few lures set up on three pokestops in close proximity. My wife had handed off her phone to me while she lit a cigarette, and as she did, I took a look at the gym a block away. I grabbed my daughter's arm, the one who is playing yellow, because the gym was being held by one yellow Pokemon. “Verity, I whispered to her, “quick, go put another pokemon at that yellow gym.

The two of us and my youngest daughter headed down the block and could see that two guys were standing near the gym and were obviously trying to take it down (Team Valor, we later learned). Verity was looking at her screen and announced that the gym had been taken. “It's white”, she said. She was on roller blades, and we were halfway down the block. “Go, go”, her sister and I encouraged. She barreled forwards on her skates, swept by the two men, did a U-turn at the end of the block and skated back our way. “You didn't get it, did you?” said her sister. As she got closer, and we could see her face emerging from the dark, she just nodded and grinned. She stole it, dropping a pokemon in place before the red team could react, and we looked back at the two bewildered players, who now had to deal with her Starmie.

They took the gym back, of course, but we thought that it was a great moment for Team Yellow. A “pokesteal” for the underdog, who needed to use subterfuge in lieu of the strength of numbers.

Which I guess is the moral of my diatribe on the difficulty of being yellow. It isn't easy being yellow, but “easy” isn't always as much fun as having to play for the advantage when you can get it. Little victories are that much sweeter when playing from behind, and sometimes being “the other” is more satisfying than representing everyone else's preference.

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