This article was originally published March 2019.
Over the two and a half years since Pokémon Go first came out, I have been a daily active player. The game has helped me get closure when moving away from home, helped me recover from surgery when I needed an excuse to get up and walking again, and has been a way for me to make new friends when living in new places.
I’ve completed my Gen 1 Pokédex, my Gen 2 Pokédex is just missing a single regional exclusive, and I’m proud of my collection of strong and shiny creatures too. Pokémon Go has been a part of my life for years now, helping keep me entertained while walking to the shops, or helping me learn about the landmarks in my own town.
The problem is, I almost lost it all over the weekend.
When I set up Pokémon Go a few years ago, I signed up for the game using my Gmail login, because it was simply the easiest login for me to remember. I already use that service to check my emails, so I didn’t have to learn a new login. I sort of just didn’t really think about things after that. I could have added Facebook as a secondary login method, but why would I need to? I know my Gmail information.
The problem was, skip three years ahead, and my Gmail email address was shut down unexpectedly. I won’t delve into the specifics of web domains closing that run their services through Gmail, but what you need to know is that I woke up, and I suddenly had no way to access my Pokémon Go account.
When you lose access to a game you’ve played for years, one you still play very actively, there’s a lot of emotions that rush through your head. I panicked. I cried a little. I thought about all the years of work and all the rare time-locked monsters I had caught.
I mainly thought about the fact that I didn’t think I had it in me to start all over again from scratch.
Pokémon Go, like so many games as service, is all about your experience playing it over time, alongside those who are playing with you. Catching those early Pokémon was exciting because it was all so new and unknown. Collecting Legendaries was manageable because I was there when they arrived, and everyone was excited to come raiding with me. I couldn’t help but think if I had to start over, with the excitement gone, it would just be a chore centred around regaining lost progress, and a reminder that I was no longer able to be a part of the competitive meta, or keep pace with my local friends.
I know I could have done more to avoid my situation, but I didn’t feel like I needed to. It’s easy to take access to your online accounts and services for granted, and sort of just assume that access will always be there. But something as simple as an old email I never used anymore getting shut down almost left me without a way to recover a game I had put years into playing.
In total, I was without my Pokémon Go account for around five days. Niantic’s customer support were friendly and did try their best to help, but ultimately couldn’t find a solution for me. They knew I was the holder of my account due to information sent to them, but without me being able to log into my account, they didn’t feel there was anything they could do to help me. I missed the first raid weekend of a new Legendary, missed my final chance to get a Shiny Meltan, and was pretty convinced my account was gone for good.
I was lucky. I managed to get my old email account reinstated temporarily after days of attempts, which allowed me to get into the game and change my settings. I now have multiple login methods for my account, but I still think about how close I was to losing it all.
Online accounts for games as service titles are easily lost. A lost email, a forgotten password, or even a shutdown server can erase years of progress in a game you might still be actively playing, and losing that can be incredibly tough. We’re living in an ever more digital age, where save files are no longer things you can manually back up in case of emergency, and with that comes the risk of heartbreak over a lost account.
So, if you play an online service game, just remember to have backup plans in place for logins, and I hope nobody else has to experience the fear I had for five days without my Shiny Swablu.
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