You may not be familiar with Pokémon GO, but you have almost certainly seen people playing it. The game/phone app uses GPS capabilities to guide people on a quest to capture Pokémon characters. These virtual characters are concentrated in areas of interest like historic sites and popular shopping districts.
If you see crowds of people walking around your neighborhood or restaurant row as they stare at their phones, you can bet they are playing Pokémon. The game is a genuine phenomenon, with 21 million active users playing the game within one week of its release. You might think this is a child’s game, but many players are adults.
In our latest round of “Unsubstantiated Headlines,” this app is the savior of our health. Overnight! Here are a just a few of the sensationalized headlines handed to me by Google:
- Why Pokémon GO is Really a National Health Service
- Pokémon GO Could be Key to Improving Children’s Health, Claims GP
- Pokémon GO Has Everyone Exercising
Really? We know that exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. But is Pokémon GO making it happen? Some walking-around evidence says no.
I checked it out one morning while waiting for my daughter to finish her piano lesson. I went to a nearby shopping center with scattered historic landmarks. Immediately, I saw more adults than kids playing. I met Nicole, a 42-year-old mother of two. She was speed-walking – in full workout attire - to capture each Pokémon. It’s a fun way to exercise, she told me, but her daughter is a little embarrassed by it. Personally, I thought the game was interesting. But I haven’t opened the app in the two weeks since.
My own kids had vastly different responses to the game. My 18-year-old and his friends immediately got on board. They spend their Friday nights running around town catching Pokémon and battling others who end up becoming new friends. This is the kid who works out for hours each day for his two soccer teams. I’m not sure how much it’s adding to his fitness level.
My 16-year-old hasn’t even downloaded the app. She has no interest in learning what it’s about. She recently broke her arm while tap-dancing, so I’m a bit relieved--- the last thing she needs is an activity that has her staring at her phone instead of where she’s walking.
My 9-year-old tried it once, shrugged, and never looked at it again. She goes out and runs laps around the park “just because,” so I don’t think chasing Pokémon would improve her health all that much.
These are just anecdotes, of course, but they demonstrate the range of response to the game. Just like any approach that encourages exercise, some people will like it. Some won’t. Some people run marathons. Others watch Walking Dead marathons. Some people swim. Others lounge on the beach. Some people play capture-the-flag. Others play video games. No activity is for everyone.
How many users will stick with it? Think about how many gym memberships go unused. How many treadmills serve as clothes racks? How long has the Wii FIT been sitting in my closet?
People have good intentions, but they often lose interest. It’s human nature. Pokémon GO won’t fix anything unless users stick with it consistently, for years. In the fast-changing world of video games and smart phone apps, I will believe that when I see it.
Am I suggesting that Pokémon GO is bad or useless? Not at all. People are having fun. They are going outside and meeting new people. These are all good things, but they aren’t changing the health of the nation - no matter what the headlines say.