The 3 Reasons Why You Should Be Playing Pokémon Go
Over the past three weeks, you’ve undoubtedly heard the buzz about Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game that has inspired over 75 million people to hit the streets in search of imaginary friends, cute little monsters called Pokémon that you need to catch and train. The game uses your phone’s camera and GPS to overlay your real world with a digital fantasy world. For many of you, this bizarre social phenomenon confirms what you have always known…people are crazy. But before you write off this gaming trend as yet another addictive form of brain draining, here are the top three reasons why you should care about Pokémon Go:
1. Pokémon Go is changing the dynamics of social engagement with video games.
If you think Pokémon Go is a game for just kids and teens, think again. In fact, according to the analytics firm Taykey, 57% of users are over the age of 25, 10% are 45-54, and 8% are even 65+. Numerous parents have gone “undercover” to test out this game, and found themselves sucked into the sheer enjoyment of an engaging treasure hunt.
Of course, as a mother of three and a researcher of happy tech, I had to go “undercover” to test this game out myself. So in the middle of a sweltering Texas summer day, I proceeded to drag my husband (an adolescent medicine specialist/video gamer) out to try the game with me (in my defense, this was the only time we could test out the game before the kids got home and found their parents playing with their toys). About two minutes into our research, my husband stole the phone out of my hand, exclaiming that I was “doing the game all wrong.” The next thing I knew, he was literally sprinting down the road to his first Poké Stop. Over the next 20 minutes, we ran from landmark to landmark in the neighborhood and stopped to talk to four different groups of strangers to gather information for the game. By the time we got home, my running app had logged two miles of running and I was a Pokémon catching expert, albeit a sweaty one.
That night, we shared our adventure with the family around the dinner table, with kids and grandparents all gathered to learn how to play. It was a moment in time to have all three generations playing a video game (when is the last time you can remember that happening?!), but I have since learned that our family experience with Pokémon Go is far from unique. I have talked to tons of parents, who like us, wanted to test out the tech before letting their kids play and found themselves not just joining the game, but actually enjoying it too. One father I talked to credited Pokémon Go with renewing his bond with his teenage daughter, while another mother Dena Blizzard rose to stardom overnight for her fabulous spin-off game Chardonnay Go (if you haven’t seen it yet, it is hilarious and well worth watching!).
2. Pokémon Go has powerful implications for positive community health.
While Pokémon Go is definitely entertaining, we have all heard the downside of this new game. Perhaps you’ve heard about the two men who walked off of a cliff while playing the game, the one person who found a dead body, or the random person who walked into someone else’s backyard and was promptly told to “get out!”—these stories make it easy to write off the entire experience. However, what you don’t often hear about is the positive personal growth that’s occurring for the thousands of individuals who are using the game. Did you know that the average player is now spending two hours more per day outside than before? As blogger Alissa Walker recently explained, “Some of these things—like thousands of young people swarming a city park of their own free will—represent the kind of civic engagement that cities have previously tried to achieve with well-funded improvements.” Forty-four percent of individuals now report that they have visited a historical landmark for the first time in their life because of this game. Capitalizing on this movement, forward-thinking national parks have started to organize Pokémon hikes and cultural institutions are holding themed tours. To top it off, 43% of users report having lost an average of 3.2 pounds in just 3 weeks, making the game one of the most efficient (and certainly the most fun) weight loss strategies in recent history.
That being said, do I think Pokémon Go can solve long-existing problems like rising childhood obesity? No. But could it help? Absolutely. Even though the game still involves screen time, it is encouraging users to get off the couch and spend time outside. Yes, this is a compromise, but bringing back old school elements of interacting with others in real time and in a real environment is worth it. Psychologist John M. Grohol explains that many Pokémon Go users are even reporting an unexpected improvement in their depression and anxiety as a result of playing the game, perhaps from leaving their homes more often, interacting with friends on a new level, and engaging in more physical activity.
3. Pokémon Go is inspiring conscious innovation and collaboration.
It’s inspiring to see a game like Pokémon Go spark human innovation on such a massive scale. You can be sure that other game designers are paying careful attention to what Pokémon Go is doing right and wrong, and emulators will not be far behind. Augmented reality games (meaning games that use your phone’s camera to overlay an imaginary world in your environment) have actually been around for years, but Pokémon Go developer Niantic was just the first to breakthrough the market across age, gender, and racial lines with its engaging and fun design. Now businesses are learning from the game developers, while trying to tap into the game’s best features to “lure” customers, leverage the Pokémon brand (think custom Starbucks drinks), and even use the game in corporate wellness programs.
Niantic might have created the Pokémon Go platform, but the real source of innovation comes from us. Here’s an instance where you should embrace the FOMO (fear of missing out) and start reaping the benefits. How can we leverage this technology as a tool for greater good? For instance, perhaps the game could limit playtime to two hours or require some form of exercise after a period of inactivity. Or perhaps the game could give users an opportunity to report potholes on city streets (like the SeeClickFix app) or alert officials of suspicious behavior. The possibilities are endless, but the responsibility to make these ideas come to life does not rest with Niantic alone. How can you piggyback on this trend to encourage positive lifestyle choices and healthy habits?
The Poké Ball is in your court.