Pokemon Go: Changing the Way We Play and Exercise?

Kenneth Heckt checks in on his Pokemon Go game.

“I feel like the game has to be a one-of,” Kenneth Heckt said. Heckt, a freshman at the University of Washington at Bothell, and I are discussing Pokémon Go, as the game seems to invaded the culture and become the all-pervasive topic of conversation and the U.S. media (beyond political coverage). Heckt has been a “trainer” or player as they are called in Pokémon lingo since the app’s July 6 release; he is on level 15 today.

We are discussing the benefits of the game and the future of the augmented and virtual reality industry. He tried Occulus Rift at a local mall and found it to be “fascinating.” Occulus Rift is made to use indoors, in a safe environment, as its main gaming apparatus or headset looks like plastic encased goggles.

An article that appeared over the weekend questioned if Pokémon Go is threatening or would eliminate all indoor-only augmented or virtual reality games. Heckt doesn’t believe that it would. “Just because one thing got huge doesn’t mean other things will be eliminated.” He used World of Warcraft and MMORPGs (massively multiple player online role playing games) as an example. “Though competitors came out, they all dropped off and WOW is the only one still popular,” he said.

Heckt is enjoying the popularity of the age and getting out and exploring. He foresees similar games coming on the market but feels like any new game that would send people on scavenger hunts would feel like an imitation. “It’s like Pac-Man. There can only be the original. Ms. Pac-Man wasn’t the same, partly because it wasn’t the first,” Heckt said.

Pokémon Go, unlike many indoor-only games, has been attributed with health benefits. Researchers at Texas A&M University have been studying the public health benefits of Pokémon Go and publications from Science Daily to Healthline have reported on the results:

· Increased exposure to fresh air and spending time outdoors. The objective of the game is to find Poke eggs and to find and collect Pokémon. Trainers do this by walking around neighborhoods, exploring new territory and/or by visiting official Pokéstops (the only place to obtain Poke eggs). The mapping function on your phone alerts you if you are close to Pokémon.

· Getting exercise (by walking for miles and miles). Heckt has walked over 23 kilometers during the first 15 levels of the game, according to its GPS function. Professor Matt Hoffman of Texas A&M to hatch an egg, one must walk between one and ten kilometers. The game app tells you how far you have to walk in order to hatch each egg.

· Increased social interaction and communication. Heckt cites numerous Snapchat videos he’s seen of people gathering in parks and playing Pokémon Go and talking to each other and doing cool stuff together, people who may otherwise be in their homes online. Others have also praised the social aspects of the game. In a blog that went viral, 6-year-old Ralphie Koppleman’s mom Leonore, said the game is awakening her autistic and hyperlexic son’s “socialization.”

· Broadening of experiences and exploration in one’s community. Heckt said because of the game he has now fully explored a cemetery a few miles from his house and been to malls he generally doesn’t go to. Hoffman said the game encourages people to seek out new territory and terrain and to learn about one’s neighborhood.

And the last health aspect of Pokémon Go was discussed in an article in the U.K.’s Independent, which reported on some trainers tweeting that game has helped them battle anxiety and depression by bringing them together with others who are laughing and walking and connecting towards the same purpose: catching Pokémon.

Whether Pokémon Go is a passing fad, spawns a school of imitators, or has any effect on the long-term bottom line of Niantic, Inc. or Nintendo or the indoor augmented or virtual reality worlds remains to be seen. But for now, it is getting 21 million daily U.S. users out and about, walking for exercise, and interacting with others.