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Pokemon Go’s Roots in Early Human Behavior

Pokemon Go’s Roots in Early Human Behavior
by Tom Simon on 08-11-2016 at 4:00 pm

The popularity of Pokemon Go is really no mystery – it has its roots in our hunter gatherer evolution. Pokemon Go was an App that was just waiting to happen. It’s a perfect storm. It is the scavenger hunt brought into the modern age. But more importantly it recapitulates what our ancestors had to do to survive. It taps primal and highly evolved programming to seek out significantly and subtlety differentiated items in our environment and bring them back as booty.

Humans are collectors. The same instinct plays out with shopping, bird watching, coin collecting, you name it any number of hobbies – things that have arisen in our culture to replace our very old and ingrained foraging skills. For a fascinating view of this I highly suggest reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is the story of three meals and how they are brought to his table. The first is fast food, the second is sustainable, and the third is hunted and foraged – by the author himself. The part of the last meal that fascinated me the most is where he goes and forages mushrooms, with the help of an experienced mushroom hunter.

Those of you who know me are well aware of my interest in mushroom hunting. I have been going into the woods for many years during the winter to search out my own ‘Pokemon’ and cook them for dinner. I used to hate hiking, but once I discovered the pleasures of hunting difficult prey and learning to distinguish poisonous fungi from the delectable (sometimes they are the same thing), I would eagerly wait for the rains to come so I could get out into the field.

I sought out the pleasure of walking through the forest in rain and drizzle, searching under and around vegetation and fallen trees. Much like Pokemon there are an endless variety of mushrooms. There is a classification system that breaks them down into families that can be fairly easily distinguished. There are many thousands of species. That number is all the more impressive when you consider that most of the people reading this have only eaten two or maybe three species. Crimini, Portabello and white mushrooms are actually the same species. Perhaps you have eaten Oyster mushrooms or Shitake. In terms of the flavors and textures available in the mushroom world, these are some of the least interesting.

So what exactly is a mushroom? The organism that produces mushrooms lives underground and consists of networks of fine strands of white fibers called mycelium. They have thin cell walls and the ability to transport water and nutrients through small pores that connect the linked cells to each other. In fact, many mushroom organisms live in connection with the roots of trees and exchange nutrients between them to assist each other. In many cases the trees or mushrooms cannot live without each other. This is a very significant piece of information to have when searching for certain varieties. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Other mushroom species live off of decomposing wood, or plant fiber. If all mushrooms ceased to exist, fallen trees would not slowly disintegrate into the forest floor. The mushroom that we see pop up out the ground or out of a dead or dying tree is the reproductive organ that the mycelium forms when two distinct individuals connect underground. The mushroom serves to broadcast billions of microscopic spores, a tiny fraction of which might ever start a new mycelium.

Our ancestors learned to distinguish toxic from edible mushrooms, and humans have a long history of foraging them for food. Some also have medicinal properties. When I go hunting I am usually looking for four or five specific varieties that I know well and have extensive experience hunting. Some of my favorites are pictured below. First off is the very choice Chanterelle, followed by the scary looking but delicious Black Trumpet.


Last is an edible that few people eat called the Cocorra.

It’s probably a good thing that everyone playing Pokemon Go is not traipsing through the woods looking for edible mushrooms. It would be pretty bad for the mushroom habitat. Nevertheless, in the case of mushrooms, it’s pretty hard to “catch them all”, but even catching a few can lead to a rewarding meal. Modern humans are not so unlike our ancient ancestors after all.

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