Why Pokémon Go is Better than your Fitness App

Every year after the holidays people vow to hit the gym and make it “the year I finally get healthy.” Not many of us follow through on that.

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“Getting healthy” isn’t that much of a motivator. “Getting sexy” generally works better, but so few of us still follow through.

Admit it. Exercise is hard.

Much of this is due to the high initial cost (carving out time, committing to that time until it becomes routine, buying gym clothes/membership, etc.) and the low initial payout (feeling like shit because you’re so out of shape, comparing yourself to others in the gym and finding yourself wanting).

Certain things can encourage people to get outside and walk- owning a dog, having a walking buddy, etc.- but the fact remains that most of us don’t. It’s boring.

Enter Pokemon Go, the new app that has millennials out walking en masse. While most of my generation is bemused, oblivious, or downright hostile toward this new trend, I took it upon myself to be at the forefront of a cultural shift for once. It started out as something fun I could do with my daughter. Not only do I recommend playing it with your children, I recommend playing it for yourself.

I’ve gotten more exercise in the past two days than I have all year. My feet hurt. I’ve been outside running around with my kids. I’m not the only one. The game has convinced many people who would otherwise remain indoors to go out and experience the world. People with depression and social anxiety have reported that the game has been immensely beneficial.  My daughter, who is more than a little inclined to hang out indoors and play with her iPad, is requesting to go to the park several times a day. With so many people out walking, one shelter is even asking for volunteers to take dogs for walks while catching Pokemon.

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How does the game motivate you to exercise?

All games employ some kind of reward system. If they didn’t, no one would play them. Rewards come in the form of leveling up, access to new items, upgrades, etc. Reward systems can make or break a game. They have to motivate the player to continue playing consistently over time (games like Farmville have this down to a science). The brain doesn’t really differentiate between tangible and digital rewards, either way it releases happy hormones.

This is where Pokemon Go excels compared to all of your fitness apps that merely track steps and other data. It rewards players for physical activity. I’m going to start with the most concrete example:

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These are all my Pokemon eggs. See how they each have “km” next to them? That’s kilometers. That’s how many kilometers I have to walk until that egg hatches. Today I got a 10km egg, which means I have to walk 6.2 MILES until it hatches. And no, riding in the car doesn’t work. If you go too fast the distance traveled is not counted. Bicycles are fine.

The game also contains PokeStops. These are blue markers around your neighborhood that can be spun for rewards when you’re in close enough proximity. They are generally located at interesting local landmarks- sometimes they are neat little places around town that you might not have otherwise noticed.

 

PokeStops have a cooldown time of about five minutes, which means you can’t stand in one spot and spam them. It’s better to find a location with several in close proximity because the first will be refreshed by the time you’ve hit all the others. My local park has five PokeStops forming a nice loop. For the past several days there have been people cycling between the PokeStops at my park, collecting their rewards and continuing on. Most of these are millennials that you wouldn’t usually see outside at a park on a Monday morning.

This is what my downtown area looks like:

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Lots of PokeStops! I hate going downtown because parking is limited and that makes transporting the kids really difficult, yet today we went early after dropping off my son. We walked around, stopped at a local cafe, played in the grass, and played in the fountain. Oh, and yes we also caught Pokemon. The servers were having issues at the time so we didn’t get to do much hunting, but our enjoyment being outdoors hanging out made up for that. I can say that I never would have gone downtown at 8:30am on a Wednesday with my kids in tow if not for this app.

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The next time you play Candy Crush or Farmville or whatever other mobile app is popular, considering downloading Pokemon Go.

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