I was nine years old the first time I heard about shiny Pokémon. I thought my mate was winding me up to be honest. Oh you saw a golden Geodude did you? But it ran away so you can’t show me? How convenient.
In the end, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and we collectively agreed that his game had glitched. But that was not the case. Shiny Pokémon are rare forms of the monsters – identical in every way to their regular counterparts other than their distinctive colour. Introduced when Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver brought the series to the GameBoy Colour, players in a pre-Internet era (and especially nine-year-olds named Ben) found it hard to verify reports, and years of rumours gave them mythic qualities.
It turns out shinies were, and remain, real. They are not a glitch, they are intentionally programmed into every Pokémon game from Silver to Shield, Go to XD: Gale of Darkness. Every player has a one in 8,192 chance of encountering a shiny, and the lucky few needed to catch it to be believed.
The odds have changed in the player’s favour over the years, and new games have added catching methods that further increase the chances. Consecutive fishing and chain combos came and went, but one method has been a staple since Generation IV: the Masuda Method.
Named after developer Junichi Masuda, this method vastly increases the rate of shiny Pokémon appearing from eggs if both parent Pokémon come from different real-world countries. It was introduced to encourage trading with players from around the world, but with this one simple addition Masuda had unintentionally bred an entirely new kind of Pokémon player.
Not content with completing their Pokédexes, becoming League Champion, or saving the world in each new game, self-confessed “shiny hunters” manipulate their odds to find as many alternate-coloured Pokémon as possible.
I like to hatch eggs in the Wild Area of Pokémon Shield. It’s a huge open-world segment of the game based on the Scottish Highlands, and there’s nothing like the rousing call of the bagpipes-led soundtrack to get the blood pumping and put you in the mood for a hunt. Cycling round in little circles in front of the day care is the most efficient way of hatching eggs, only pausing to receive another from the Nursery worker. So that’s what we do.
There’s a relaxing monotony to hatching eggs. A familiarity as your thumbs mindlessly spin the joysticks. It’s muscle memory at this point. There’s a brief pause every time an egg starts to hatch. The animation is excruciatingly long, and feels longer with every subsequent egg that fails to shine. It’s something that should feel demoralising and disappointing, but every hatched egg is a motivator.
Now more than ever, games offer instant gratification. We preorder and preinstall, we buy the latest hardware to reduce loading times to a fraction of a second just to play something marginally earlier than someone else. We binge 40-hour campaigns and race to Platinum trophies. Then we move onto the next release.
But not when you’re hunting shinies. It’s a long, often agonising process with – to be completely honest – little reward. Yes, a shiny Pokémon sparkles and has a different colour palette, but there is no tactical advantage to using it on your team. Then why, you may ask, do so many people dedicate hours to hunting them?
It’s the thrill of the hunt.
As I write this, I hit the 1,000 egg mark in my hunt for a shiny Farfetch’d. With the combination of the Masuda Method and the Shiny Charm (which I received upon completing my Pokédex), I’ve narrowed the odds to a 1/512 chance. I’ve hatched nearly twice that many Farfetch’d.
But this is the thrill of shiny hunting. Without the hunt, there would be no glory in finding the shiny, no relief, no joy. It’s a slow, gradual crescendo of suspense that, for all we know, may never reach its climax. It’s the reason I’ve put 240 hours into a 20-hour game. It’s a pregnant pause that gestates for hours upon hours, a spring slowly coiling, each new egg a new opportunity to birth a beautiful shiny and release days of tension.
In a way, I was disappointed when a shiny Zigzagoon stumbled onto my screen last week after just 44 eggs. It had robbed me of hours of the hunt. Hours of cycling in circles. Hours of anticipation. I hadn’t sufficiently built tension before it was unceremoniously released, and I sighed at poor Zigzagoon like I would someone who pulled the cord on their party popper too early and spoiled the whole surprise. It’s not that I wasn’t happy with the shiny – after all, it wasn’t her fault she turned up earlier than planned – it’s that the joy a shiny brings is directly proportional to the length of the hunt.
So we go on, cycling the same circles, hatching more eggs. There are grooves in the dirt where we’ve ridden so much. The air is filled with the distinctive caw of the Galarian Farfetch’d I release flapping to freedom. And I go on, circles, eggs. I ceremoniously note down every milestone hatch. First I reached a hundred, then two hundred, now a thousand.
But it’s all just a game of chance, and a game of patience. And, as frustrated as I currently feel, when a Farfetch’d eventually rears its shiny, duck-billed face and jabs at me with its stupid leek as thousands have before, every second will be worthwhile.
While shiny hunting, you’re submitting yourself to nature’s mercy. Fate, RNG, sheer damn luck, whatever you’d like to call it. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if the developers forgot to code shiny Farfetch’d into the game after all. It’s more likely that Arceus isn’t smiling on me today.
But one day, he will. Until then, I’ll trace circles in the dirt.