Pokémon Go: The game changing our behaviour and improving our health

Date: 14/07/2016 Written by: Rosie 5 minutes to read.
Digital focus

Typically, video and mobile games are bad news for health and physical activity levels. However, the newly released Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game actively encouraging people to get moving - that's right, a game is increasing levels of activity by giving them rewards for going on walks. But what is this new game taking the world by storm? And how long will it last?

For years, gaming has not had the best reputation. Reports of Nintendo-related incontinence, where children were so engrossed in playing Super Mario Bros they ignored the need to go to the toilet and “nintendonitis” - problems in the hand, wrist and thumb associated with strenuous game play have generated negative news headlines and caused concern amongst parents and health professionals.

But is that all about to change with the release of Pokémon Go - a new innovative augmented reality mobile game helping to get people off the sofa and out onto the streets?

Unless you have been hiding under a rock this last week you cannot have failed to hear about the release of Pokémon Go. And if you have missed the news, you might start to wonder about some 'strange behaviour' next time you walk down the high street. Let me share with you exactly what I mean... A woman walks down the street, pausing and backtracking erratically. She clutches her phone in front of her, furiously jabbing at the screen. Suddenly, to her right, another person appears, enacting the same strange dance of connection between his legs, his eyes and his phone.

Across the street, three individuals are in a huddle, each holding their phones in front of them. The woman overhears them say, "Charmander." She immediately stops and prepares her Poke Ball for attack... Are you starting to picture it yet? This new game allows players to hunt for strange hidden creatures, capture them and compete for territory in a digital version of the real world. Welcome to a new kind of reality. A virtual reality.

So what?

The game has captured our attention because it appears to be drawing people out of their homes tackling both physical inactivity and mental ill health such as depression and anxiety. I’ve downloaded the game and the average time I’ve spent walking each day has almost doubled compared to two weeks ago. I have logged more than 2 hours of walking in a single day without realising it. My colleague Savannah went to her local supermarket to top up her weekly shop and found herself running through fields and walking for over two hours in the pursuit of capturing Pokémon.

Really?

Yes. I can't tell you if this is a 'fad' and short lived but for now it is doing something very important. If it is short lived it is serving up a very important lesson for people trying to inspire others to look after their health and wellbeing. The game is a product that is fun, easy and popular - the three key ingredients for marketing positive behaviour change. As players we are given quests to capture virtual Pokémon (fictional creatures). All you need is a smartphone to track down and capture them. Once a Pokémon is captured, we are rewarded and can improve our strength and abilities. Pokémon Go uses real life maps and allows individuals to have their own adventures in their villages, towns and cities. This is the main aspect in playing the game - people are getting out and about, not just by themselves, but with groups of friends (and fellow Pokémon trainers) on their quests. In a nutshell:

Reward and exchange is key here. Walking 10 kilometres to hatch a virtual egg? Wow!

There are several location-based games out there, as well as apps that allow you to build your own treasure hunt, but Pokémon Go connects with the players through their nostalgia, provides animated maps and incorporates augmented reality. It is fun, easy to use and popular. It also offers reward and exchange and delivers an experience. Suddenly walking and running through fields is appealing.

Without any intention of improving health outcomes the game is getting people moving. Even if it is just for a short time the number of miles logged over the coming weeks will double. I have an activity app on my phone (Lark) that tracks how many minutes I’ve spent walking each day. The app motivates and coaches me and highlights my activity levels as well as providing motivational messages to help me become more active. After I started using Pokémon Go, I started walking more and this made me feel positive about my activity levels and motivated me to maintain, if not, increase the amount of time I spend walking.

For some people, asking them to take part in long walks is a daunting thought. It is also quite boring at times - especially if you have indulged in the scenery many times. Add Pokémon Go or a similar product to the mix and you will engage people like never before. When Pokemon Go matures, when the creators learn how to serve not just an audience with an abundant amount of free time, but the parents of those players, a community in an old-age home and a group of commuters on a bus, then it will have revolutionized the way we consume media and I for one can't wait.

Happy Pokémon chasing!

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