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Pokémon GO Brings Video Games Outside

By American Heart Association News

Pokémon GO is getting players physically moving in the real world, a change from the stereotypical stationary screen time usually associated with gaming.


The app works by allowing GPS to track the gamer’s location, which in turn moves the player’s avatar the same distance on the in-game map.

The mobile app, which was released earlier this month by Niantic Labs has already been downloaded more than 15 million times worldwide and is reportedly on more than 10 percent of all Android phones.

“There is already clear evidence that people are walking more each day while using it,” said Wei Peng Ph. D, an associate professor at Michigan State University, who studies the potential benefits in using video games and interactive media to promote health.

Since the release, malls, parks and public areas have been swarmed by groups trying to catch virtual creatures from the Pokémon franchise that appear in the game. Some components of playing, such as the egg incubators, require a certain amount of movement or walking. Other parts of the game require people to go from place to place to capture the creatures.

Meanwhile, the game encourages community with landmarks that players designate and others can visit. One such stop is a memorial for Louis B. Russell, the 34th heart transplant recipient, located at American Heart Association’s national headquarters in Dallas. The game uses its own irreverent reference to the landmark without actually mentioning Russell, who was the longest-surviving transplant recipient of his time at 594 days.

There are also bonuses for gamers who group with nearby players.

Peng said the game offers multiple benefits, such as increasing physical activity, increasing social interaction and even just being outdoors. She said the game could be especially effective at getting people who live sedentary lifestyles to make the first step toward being more active.

Debra Lieberman, Ph. D., a media researcher who directs the Center for Digital Games Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agrees that the game has the potential to improve people’s lifestyles.

“The game could be a gateway to other forms of exercise for sedentary people,” she said. “Once they start walking and realize how good they feel after being active, they might also become involved in activities such as biking or swimming.”

Pokémon GO builds on a fan base stretching back to the mid-1990s when a pair of video games was made for the original Nintendo Game Boy.

Collector trading cards and card game tournaments also became popular, along with toys, comic books and cartoons.

An interesting aspect of Pokémon GO is its widespread use.

“We are hearing that the game appeals to people who are unfamiliar with the Pokémon franchise and who don’t typically play active video games,” Lieberman said.  “They are drawn to the game for the novelty of the augmented reality gameplay and for opportunities to interact socially.  With the news coverage the game is receiving, they are excited to try it.”

Peng and Lieberman both expect the popularity of Pokémon GO to inspire other companies to develop similar augmented reality games involving physical activity that is tracked by GPS.

They noted that there are negatives to consider. Players of all ages have been hurt when not paying attention to their surroundings, walking onto private property or lured to unsafe areas and robbed.  And there are concerns about people missing out on experiencing and appreciating their physical surroundings while they are paying so much attention to their phone screens.

Lieberman and Peng both stressed that parents need to be careful and should accompany their children when they’re out playing the game in distant or unknown locations. Also, playing the game at night should be avoided.

“If people are being safe and playing in moderation, the game could bring tremendous benefits, such as fun, game challenges, beloved characters, social interaction, and physical activity,” Lieberman said, “just as long as they also spend some of their time looking up from their screens.”

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