A new augmented-reality game, Pokémon Go, was released this month (July, 2016). You would think civilization was coming to an end, so pervasive has been negativity in the press and on social media. “Everything is terrible! The sky is falling! We’re all gonna die!” Throw in a heaping helping of “kids nowadays are ruining everything,” along with a good dose of “somebody has to put a stop to this madness,” and you’ve got the theme of most of the articles making the rounds the past few days. There’s tremendous cynicism and hostility toward the game, and toward the people who are playing it.
I’m here to tell you there’s a huge upside to Pokémon Go, and for the most part it’s being ignored. Good news doesn’t sell ad space or commercial time. It doesn’t get shared by indignant people as proof of their moral superiority over “those people” who are playing.
The News and Reality are Very Different
The popular news media exists to scare us, so we’ll buy stuff. Apparently they are doing a good job of it. A friend commenting on Facebook summed up perfectly how the news media’s message of fear and people’s lack of understanding about Pokémon Go is affecting public perception of the game:
“It’s a security issue everywhere…nothing good to come from this…there have been people hit by cars, robbed and graveyards desecrated, not to mention the police that are tied up with all the people in some places…business owners are losing money because of all of it…it needs to stop before it is hacked and people are led God knows where…” And in another comment, “This is going to be a big problem…disturbing businesses…one kid followed it and was lead to a dead body, others have played and were robbed…”
That sounds pretty frightening, right? But it’s not the whole picture. Not even close.
Millions of People are Playing
Yes, there have been reports of people being stupid and getting hurt, or being disrespectful of private property. That’s not good, and it’s not OK. They should be more careful, and more responsible. But they are a tiny fraction of the millions of people who are playing the game. Millions of people!!! According to this AdWeek article, “Pokémon GO Surpasses 7.5 Million Downloads in 5 Days.” That was on July 11th, so it’s easily many millions more by now. More from that article – remember, several days ago – this is truly insane:
“In terms of engagement, SimilarWeb said more than 60 percent of users who have downloaded Pokémon GO in the U.S. are playing the game daily. As of July 8, the game’s average usage time was 43 minutes, 23 seconds per day. According to SimilarWeb, this is higher than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.” [Emphasis mine.]
More current data reported on Heavy.com says: “As of Monday, July 11th, the game was seeing about 21 million daily active users, according to Survey Monkey.” [Emphasis mine.] And that number is even a few days old.
Putting Things In Perspective
As usual, the breathless proclamations of doom in the news are overstated. Remember that the media makes its living by scaring the wits out of us and telling us everything horrible that’s going on in the world. Even better if there are gruesome photos or video, and people are “getting emotional.” They thrive on that stuff.
People have fallen off cliffs taking photos of natural wonders. People have been robbed while using public transportation. People have found dead bodies while jogging for their health. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet some people have absent-mindedly walked into the street while engrossed in novels or newspaper articles. Do we freak out about photography, taking the subway, exercising outdoors, or reading? No, we do not. And we shouldn’t freak out over people playing Pokémon Go, either.
Over 21 million people are playing a game that requires getting out and moving. Two guys fell off a cliff because they were being careless or stupid, and it made the national news. There’s some perspective for you.
And hey, it’s a good thing that young woman found that drowned man.
“I probably would have never went down there if it weren’t for this game,” Shayla Wiggins admitted. “But in a way, I’m thankful. I feel like I helped find his body. He could have been there for days.”
How that situation could be an argument against playing is beyond me. I hope his family will find closure, knowing what happened to him.
A Closer Looks at Health Benefits
We are an all-too-sedentary society, and it’s costing us dearly in terms of lost lives, diminished potential, and public and private money spent on caring for the chronically sick and disabled. The US National Health Care Expenditure in 2014 was $3.0 trillion dollars. Much of that was to due to lifestyle diseases, described here in a Cleveland Clinic article [emphasis mine]:
“Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief of chronic stress are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer. … Despite an understanding of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, many patients lack the behavioral skills they need to apply everyday to sustain these good habits.”
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, looking at 334,000 people over 12 years, found that being active was even more important that losing weight in terms of overall health benefits:
“The hazards of all-cause mortality were reduced by 16–30% in moderately inactive individuals compared with those categorized as inactive in different strata of BMI and WC. Avoiding all inactivity would theoretically reduce all-cause mortality by 7.35%,” and “… efforts to encourage even small increases in activity in inactive individuals may be beneficial to public health.”
A summary of the study on Forbes.com puts it very clearly [again, emphasis mine]:
“It turned out that lack of physical activity was linked to the greatest risk of death – and the greatest reduction in death risk was in the difference between the lowest two activity groups. In other words, just moving from “inactive” to “moderately inactive” showed the largest reduction in death risk, especially for normal weight people, but true for people of all body weights. And, the authors say, just taking a brisk 20-minute walk per day can move you from one category to the other, and reduce the risk of death anywhere from 16% to 30%.”
There are consequences to the habit of sitting on the couch at home. It is not a benign practice. It is not safe. Problems stemming from a lack of exercise include poor physical and mental health, lost productivity, misery, loneliness, and increased lifelong health costs. There’s plenty of information out there, but that’s not what’s getting publicized. According to the American Diabetes Association, “1.4 million Americans [United States] are diagnosed with diabetes every year.” According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.” [Emphasis theirs.]
Imagine changing those numbers, and many others like them, by even one percentage point. That would be 14,000 fewer people who become diabetic each year! 6,100 people who don’t die of heart disease each year! That would be amazing!
Pokémon Go has gotten over 20 million people (conservatively) off their butts. It has sent them walking around their neighborhoods, exploring parks, and discovering landmarks. Players are motivated and moving, and inviting their friends and families to join them in the fun, too!
As a personal trainer, fitness coach, writer, and advocate for people getting outdoors and participating in healthful activity with friends, I would consider myself successful to have positively influenced the exercise habits of a couple hundred people over the course of my career. This game has reached more than 100,000 times that many people in just a couple of weeks!
So the the mercenary news media and ignorant naysayers who are frightening people away from playing Pokémon Go are kind of pissing me off.
If a simple, free, fun game can get tens of millions of people into healthier habits, we should all be embracing it, and encouraging folks to play it! Pokémon Go is new. It’s just getting started. And it’s the first of its kind (or at least the first that’s widely known). Others will follow. There will be improvements in the games, some boundaries will be clarified in the physical world. It’s not perfect, but it is a very good thing. Go play!
See Pokémon Go for Yourself
I sure as heck don’t trust the news media to tell me what to think, and you shouldn’t either. First, they are clueless half the time, and second, their job is to sell commercial airtime by making us afraid, indignant, and enraged, and by letting us feel superior and “in the know.” Their job is not to inform. And just because something is trending on social media doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing to know about a subject.
I don’t like being ignorant of major social phenomena. Sure, I ignore most movies, don’t have any idea what’s on TV, and am clueless about this year’s hot bands. But Pokémon Go is a much bigger deal. This is a whole new thing. So I downloaded the app and tried it for myself. I encourage you to do the same.
Try the game and find out. It’s really not the problem the media is making it out to be. I have never seen such a stark contrast between reality and what is being reported. And I have seen a lot of such a contrasts in my life.
Given the huge potential benefits of this game (and other augmented reality games that will certainly follow it), I think what the news media is doing is unconscionable. I’m really kind of furious about it.
Some Basics You Should Know
Here are some things you should know, that I’ve learned from playing it over the past two days.
- It’s free. If you have an iOS or Android device just download it and check it out.
- It’s easy. Ask a friend to show you the ropes, or Google how to play.
- No one is led around blindly. The game will not lead you into traffic, off a cliff, or make you trespass, break laws, or desecrate graves. You do not chase or follow anything. You wander around and find the characters and objects. If there’s something you want in a place you can’t get to, let it go. You’ll have another chance later.
- It’s fun. It really is a delightfully compelling experience, but not all-consuming. Nothing changes when you’re not playing – unlike those virtual pets that would die if you didn’t keep up with feeding them. You don’t have to keep checking it. Play when you’re playing, don’t play when you’re doing other things.
- It’s collaborative more than it’s competitive. If there’s something to be found and collected, everyone can get it! It’s not a win/lose proposition. You play with your friends, not against them. (Hey! That’s a lot like Aikido!)
We Went, We Saw, We Were Amazed
Last night Michael and I went out to Balboa Park. It’s a huge urban park in San Diego, California. “The nation’s largest urban cultural park,” according to its website. You know, with museums, theaters, cafes, the San Diego Zoo, a botanical garden, street performers, artists, etc.
We arrived after 9pm. On a Wednesday. Got that? We were out late on Wednesday night. Prime sitting-in-front-of-the-TV-or-computer time for many people. Not such a busy time at the park, usually.
It was a beautiful, clear, warm summer evening. Even from a distance I could see in the game that there was a lot going on throughout the whole area. (Michael was driving.) The first parking lot we tried was full. We got lucky and found a spot on the street. There were people everywhere.
Thousands of happy people were out having a great time together. Small groups of good-natured people, mostly younger, were laughing, talking, and helping each other out. Couples were playing together. People were walking their dogs. Parents pushed babies in strollers, or played together with their little kids.
I didn’t hear a raised voice or unkind word the whole time we were there. Instead we heard quiet conversations: “Over here!” “I got a Zubat!” “Ooh, look – a Ponyta!”
We walked up and down the Prado, and stopped to have a drink at the cafe near the art museum. That was new to us – we didn’t know the cafe was open in the evenings. We also saw that there is a Wednesday night jazz jam session there! We’ll have to come back again! We sat on a bench in the sculpture garden and watched people hunt for creatures and items in the game, and wondered how many others were experiencing the garden and cafe for the first time, too. One of the aims of the game (or so I’ve heard) is to introduce people to landmarks, points of interest, public art, parks, and other interesting features of their communities. I’d have to say it’s doing a good job of that.
The streets have probably never been so safe. The buildings were lit blue, in honor of the murdered police officers. There was no security issue or problem last night that we saw. We saw no police – there was no need for crowd control. We saw one security guard in a pickup driving slowly down the main walkway (the Prado). Nobody was bothering anyone or anything. Nobody was being unruly, loud, disrespectful, or destructive.
Neither of us have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes. (We are in our mid-50s.) It was just incredible. Michael kept saying it was surreal. He called his parents to tell them what was going on. We stayed, playing and people-watching, until after 11pm. The place was still buzzing, and more people were arriving. It was really amazing to see. I wonder what the weekend will be like?
After so many tragedies around the world, so much bitterness, so many contrary, oppositional people spouting nastiness daily, it was a relief and a joy to see all these good people getting out together and just playing. It was like coming up for air after being held underwater. It’s not that tragedies don’t matter, or that political debate isn’t important, but that’s not all there is. There’s also living our lives. Pursuing happiness. That’s a thing, too.
Go download the game, figure out the basics, grab a friend or two, and find a place to play – shopping area, nightlife zone, university, or park. I think you’ll have a great time!
Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and ACE Group Fitness Instructor serving clients in San Diego County, California. As a fitness professional her goal is to support her clients in achieving the levels of health and fitness that enable them to go out and do whatever they love to do – martial arts, dance, hiking, surfing, golf, … Maybe even playing Pokémon Go.
Linda is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”