Pokémon Go Right Now!
Have you heard about the latest health craze? All you need is the app on your smartphone. Experts caution that it can be addictive and harmful if used improperly. Side effects include sore legs and battery drainage, but the benefits are many.
In fact, this isn’t just an exercise in futility, but an actual cultural phenomenon. It has surpassed Candy Crush and is now the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. “It” is Pokémon Go, the 21st century version of the old Nintendo game. Within three days of its release, it attracted more users than Twitter.
Pokémon Go’s website says to “Get Up, Get Out, and Explore! Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon. Explore cities and towns where you live – and even around the globe – to capture as many Pokémon as you can. As you walk through the real world, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you’re near a Pokémon.” For a more detailed explanation, this Vox.com article is helpful.
Why should I care about these virtual creatures?
By now, you’ve probably seen people walking around in pairs or groups with their smartphones. Alexandra Johnson is one of them. She heard about the game a while ago through the Internet and friends who are into Pokémon. She grew up playing Pokémon games on the GameBoy, watching the animated series, and collecting the cards. “I always dreamed of actually catching and training Pokémon in real life, and Pokémon Go with its augmented reality concept brings that closer to reality,” Johnson says.
Already pretty active with walking, Johnson says the app has made her explore familiar neighborhoods more and she’s enjoyed discovering local landmarks. She finds it to be a great break from work and reading about depressing events in the news. Since many of her friends are playing it as well, she looks forward to joining them and maybe even meeting new friends through the game.
Friends aren’t the only ones gathering; families are spending time together hunting Pokemon. It’s a great bonding activity that’s appealing to many.
This is where the game’s benefits come into play. Many players don’t realize this, but Pokémon Go was initially designed with exercise in mind. This is called an exergame, a video game that involves exercise. As Dr. Kay Leaming-Van Zandt, an emergency medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, says, “Exergaming can be fun and motivating, and it provides children and adolescents [and ostensibly, adults] the opportunity to engage in healthy levels of physical activity and reduce sedentary time.” She adds that research has shown that exergaming is comparable to light to moderate-intensity exercise (i.e. brisk walking, skipping, jogging, and stair climbing). However, she cautions that activity intensity varies greatly among participants and games.
While there’s no long-term research on whether exergaming can be used effectively to maintain daily physical activity, there’s no denying that it’s better than sitting on the couch. Better yet, this form of low to moderate exercise could be a nice alternative for people who have anxiety, social fears, or disabilities that make it difficult for them to leave home, Dr. Leaming-Van Zandt says.
Many players have posted on Twitter about how this augmented reality game is helping their mental health, mood, social anxiety, and depression. It’s also been found to help people with autism get out of their comfort zone and interact with others. Pictures have been shared on social media of diverse groups of people who happened to meet up at a Pokestop (a hot spot for Pokémon). What often happens is that people see others playing, so they start interacting to exchange information, offer tips, and help teach one another. There are impromptu meet-ups and now even organized meet-ups are occurring. Non-gamers are into it, and it’s successfully gotten people outside and moving.
Manda Brown, for one, likes exploring with her high school-aged daughter Autumn. They wind up going to places they normally wouldn’t and chatting with strangers. The other day, Autumn ran out the door to catch a Pokémon when she woke up, and wound up walking around the neighborhood until dinner time.
More health benefits
Dr. Heather Bartos, Medical Director at Be. Women’s Health & Wellness and a certified Pilates and yoga instructor, says when she plays Pokémon Go with her daughter, she notices that her step count increases. She thinks games like these keep life fresh and adds, “Any phenomenon that promotes movement, especially among young women, is a great thing.” She recalls how everyone went crazy for Twister, Psy’s Gangnam Style, Zumba, and then fitness trackers. “Women want to be active but have fun doing it,” she says. “The last thing we need is anything with the word ‘work’ in it.”
“Overall, I think this is a game that will appeal to a certain type of woman, but all women could benefit from the idea of moving more in a fun (and free) manner,” says Dr. Bartos.
Going outside is amazing for women with depression, says Dr. Bartos. Vitamin D and the thrill of seeking adventure are both endorphin boosters. For people who are anxious about big groups outside, she recommends starting small (off times for normally crowded areas) and working up to bigger groups.
“Overall, I think this is a game that will appeal to a certain type of woman, but all women could benefit from the idea of moving more in a fun (and free) manner,” says Dr. Bartos. “If this game could add a step counter to it, then it could really be onto something!” Good news for Dr. Bartos. While the app doesn’t track steps, it does track kilometers, and there are rewards for certain distances.
Naturally, Pokémon Go’s popularity has a downside. The media has been rife with stories about accidents, robberies, inappropriate discoveries and places. Erica Penn doesn’t play and doesn’t let her daughters play too often. The family was at a swim meet recently when several swimmers were almost hit by passing cars because they crossed the street trying to catch a rare Pokémon at the school across the street. “Pokémon Go should be banned,” says Penn.
Pokémon Go’s website has safety rules like never playing while on a bike or driving a car, but clearly many players get caught up in the game and are easily distracted. Some parents have their kids watch a safety video before playing and/or institute certain rules (like not going to parks alone).
There have been complaints that Pokémon Go isn’t accessible for people with disabilities, who can’t access some Pokémons because of their locations (on top of a rocky hill, for example). The requirements to move around can also be problematic. Pokestops can be tucked away or inaccessible, holding a phone and maneuvering a wheelchair isn’t easy, and it doesn’t utilize the voice over feature on the iPhone. Since one in five casual gamers has a disability, the company should consider adding alternative play modes and/or a disability setting.
A Pokémon Go parody called Chardonnay Go may not become reality, but what will is the increased integration of virtual reality on women’s health apps, says Ofer Mintz, Assistant Professor of Marketing specializing in digital marketing and marketing analytics at Louisiana State University. He says this is the tip of the iceberg of what we’ll see in the future. What this craze shows is that consumers are ready for the integration of virtual reality and phones.
While a game like this may die down eventually – either when the weather gets colder or when the novelty wears off – that’s ok. “It just spurs more techies to come up with new variations and new games,” says Dr. Bartos. And if women have more fun doing “fitness-related” apps and activities, this will pass onto the next generation, she adds.
There may not be a significant impact on long-term health, but for right now, Pokémon Go is the thing to do. Johnson sums it up when she says, “After the news of the last few days, I’m going to go immerse myself in Pokémon Go for the weekend.”