Do you know a Jigglypuff from a Squirtle? If not then you may have missed one of the biggest things of 2016. Pokémon GO was one of the most popular apps of 2016 with over 500 million downloads.
It is a free, location-based, augmented reality game developed by Niantic in collaboration with Nintendo through the Pokémon company. Players use the GPS capability of their mobile device to find, capture and battle virtual creatures called Pokémon. These appear on the screen as though they were in the same location as the player who appears as an avatar on the real world map that is displayed. It has been credited with increasing activity in those who play and with helping local businesses by way of increased foot fall. Players cannot capture Pokémon if they are travelling at more than 20 miles per hour so the best way to do so is on foot. Pokestops, where players can accumulate the means to capture Pokémon, are often located at local points of interest, landmarks or businesses.
Some early reviewers described Pokémon GO as ‘secretly the best exercise app out there’ and ‘the greatest unintentional health app ever’.
So why are we writing about a game for kids (of all ages)? Well, playing Pokémon GO requires players actually to get out and about and indulge in some physical activity. It is encouraging players to leave the comfort of their armchairs, venture out on the street and increase their step counts.
There has been interest from the medical community: hardly surprising one might think, particularly with rising levels of obesity in the young. The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported on an editorial in the British Medical Journey by Dr Margaret McCartney who used anecdotal evidence to suggest the benefits of the game: “Most health apps that promote physical activity tend to get users who want to be healthy. Pokémon GO isn’t marketed as a health app, but players still end up doing a lot of walking. The possibilities for apps to make the streets an active, reclaimed playground in which to have interconnected fun are boundless. Increased physical activity is a tantalising side-effect. Game on.”
In July 2016 the UK’s University of Leicester referred to increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes, commenting “If it is getting people off the sofa and pounding the streets then this game could be an innovative solution for rising obesity levels.”
However, the BMJ reported in December 2016 that in a US study, over 500 players of the game initially increased their step count by around 20 per cent in the first week after installation… but then reverted back to pre-installation levels within six weeks.
If this article is a little tongue-in-cheek there is also a serious message, which is the power of gamification in getting these Pokémon GO players out of their homes and on to the streets – in the same way that fitness trackers can encourage people to be more active and boost their step counts.
What’s more, think of the data that is being gathered here about users’ exercise habits. And as we all know data is powerful. Those in the insurance industry have been speculating for some time about disruptors entering the market and using data to promote insurance products in specific market segments. Most figured it would be firms like Google, Amazon or Fitbit. How about some term insurance from Pokémon?
For those of you not up to speed on these things, Jigglypuff is a Pokémon character – a round, pink ball with pointed ears and large, blue eyes. And Squirtle is a small Pokémon that resembles a light blue turtle. So now you know.
Gotta catch ’em all! Pokémon GO and physical activity among young adults: difference in differences study. Howe KB, Suharlim C, Ueda P, Howe D, Kawachi I, Rimm EB. Brit Med J 2016;355:i6270