“I’ve reached 21,000 steps,” tweets one excited teenager. “Five miles – smashed”, boasts a man in his 30s. “Me and my wife have clocked up 60 miles between us over this weekend,” a middle-aged executive writes on Facebook.
Wherever you look there are scores of people of all ages running around the streets, parks and shopping centres – has the message finally got through that exercise is good for you?
Unfortunately this is not the case, however, a gaming craze that has hit these shores is achieving the same goal. People are walking, jogging, running and cycling in a bid to capture and zap little on-screen characters known as Pokémon.
Virtual world, real fitnessIt is a case of virtual world meets real world: download the app and then on your smart-phone screen you will see the surrounding environment, but with Pokemon characters superimposed upon it. The aim is to capture the Pokemon before someone else does. The result can be a bit like a stampede as people rush to claim the next Pokemon.
“I have never paid such attention to the area I live in,’ says one keen gamer, who works in the tech shop Game and spends his social time, well… gaming. “I used to just sit and play Candy Crush at home, now I’m out and about every lunchtime and all weekend.”
A new audienceDespite the fact that Pokemon Go is introducing a very unlikely set of people – the gaming community – to exercise, as well as providing a fun activity for millions of people around the world, the game has its many detractors. “Adults shouldn’t play games” is one common criticism; “yet another computer game that stops people socialising”, is another. “It’s not real,” is a third.
Duncan Lindsey, writing for Metro UK puts the case forward for Pokemon Go and it is an argument that should be at least considered by the doubters.
1. Gaming is one of the biggest industries in the world and has been proven to help problem solving skills, decrease anxiety and develop motor skills.
2. Gathering together outside is also known as socialising. Just because parties have cans of beer instead of Pokémon, there isn’t a world of difference and the game is helping thousands to make friends over a common interest.
3. Yes, Pokémon isn’t real. Nor is Game Of Thrones, the latest cinematic release, your favourite best selling novel or TV soaps. But real life can be a depressing thing and everyone needs some escapism. One form of fiction isn’t more or less acceptable than another.
There are valid criticisms. An over-zealous Pokemon Go-fan may stray onto land or premises that are off limits; there could be collisions between gamers as they pay attention to the screen not people ahead. And of course, it is addictive – which will always bring its own problems.
Stealthy exerciseBut let’s look beyond the criticisms. There are already a number of video games that can be used for working out – Dance Central, Zombies! Run. These all provide entertainment and fitness in an engaging and encouraging way. While these games are aimed at people who are seeking a way to exercise, Pokemon Go is doing something different – it is persuading people to exercise without them really knowing it. Wandering around a map catching Pokémon requires a lot of energy, especially when the Pokémon are spaced few and far between.
Who knows, a fun game could accidentally prove more effective at reducing obesity than the efforts of all the health ministers, doctors and fitness experts combined.