If you’ve seen more people than usual walking around with their heads
bent over their smartphones, or wondered just what a Jigglypuff or Squirtle
is, then you’ve encountered the Pokémon GO phenomenon.
This “augmented reality” game—in which a player tracks
down digital cartoon Pokémon characters using the phone’s
GPS system and camera—is a fad that’s as hot as the summer
weather. In the first five days after its July release, Pokémon
GO notched 7.5 million downloads in the U.S. alone and brought in more
than $1 million each day to creators Nintendo and Niantic, according to
Forbes. It’s also the latest example of how digital games can help get
people moving, says
Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group.
“Parents can appreciate games such as Pokémon GO because they
defy the stereotype that playing video games is a sedentary activity.
Instead of sitting on the couch or hunched over a computer, players are
up and moving,” Dr. Stouder says. “And in the case of Pokémon
GO, you have to go outside to play. Being active outdoors can be great
physical activity for your kids.”
Pokémon GO is the latest in a line of interactive digital gaming
that puts an emphasis on the “active.” “Exergaming”
dates back to the 1980s, when exercise equipment was often hooked up to
a gaming system. In the late ‘90s, Dance Dance Revolution came out,
which required players to copy the game’s moves to boost their scores.
And in the past decade, there’s been a steady increase in these
types of interactive games. Nintendo introduced the Wii gaming system,
which allowed users to move around their living rooms while playing games
that focus on dance, golf, tennis, bowling and other activities. Other
home video game companies, such as Sony and Microsoft, followed suit.
Augmented reality phone apps have also been on the rise over the past
few years, though none have matched the popularity of Pokémon GO.
“While it’s certainly more beneficial to move around while
playing a video game rather than sitting still, it shouldn’t take
the place of regular exercise, as studies differ on whether these games
offer enough intensity in a workout,” Dr. Stouder says. “However,
if a parent has a child who needs encouragement when it comes to getting
enough physical activity, these games could be a good gateway to exercising
more. For instance, in Pokémon GO, a player can get eggs that only
hatch into Pokémon characters after the person has walked a certain
distance, such as a 5K. The child may be more eager to walk to accomplish
the game's objective, and more willing to walk even when not playing
Dr. Stouder also cautions players to use good, common sense to avoid injury. The
Wall Street Journal reports that cellphones are responsible for an estimated 10 percent of
all pedestrian injuries each year and gaming apps can be a big distraction.
“Already, there have been reports of Pokémon GO players tripping
and falling, or narrowly avoiding being hit by a car or falling off a
subway platform, because they’re not watching where they are walking,”
Dr. Stouder says. “Users should get in the habit of looking up frequently
from their phones while walking, and putting phones down when crossing
streets or getting near traffic. For children especially, the game should
be played in a familiar environment away from traffic and on flat, even
terrain. Catching a Pikachu isn’t worth it if a person ends up losing
their step and spraining an ankle or breaking a bone.”
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