You may have been noticing people acting rather strangely this week. Why are that couple walking on the patch of grass next to the Tesco that leads no where? Why are those teenagers hanging around outside the church next to the surgery? Are there more families walking around together in the sun? And why are they all holding mobile phones in their hands
Fortunately, it seems nearly everyone knows the answer. My 60 year old parents, my eight year old nephew, the practice manager and and the patients all know.
They are all playing Pokemon Go.
A new and addictive mobile game which has taken the world by storm. It is giving us all one of those rare shared cultural moments when everyone, young and old, have something in common to talk about.
“It is perhaps the first game to implement mixed reality”
Pokemon Go has had more active users than Twitter, and replaced “porn” as the most searched term on Google, this week.
A patient told me about Pokemon Go in clinic this Tuesday. “My autistic son wanted to get up and go out of the house. He never wants to do that.”
Interestingly, Pokemon Go is also receiving praise for having a positive impact on people’s mental and physical health.
So what is Pokemon Go and why am I excited?
The Pokemon series of games from Nintendo were popular at the turn of the century. Players explored an in game world catching creatures called Pokemon. There was a vast variety of Pokemon, many were common and some were rare. And, “You gotta catch ‘em all!” or so the catchphrase went.
Pokemon Go is the latest incarnation in the Pokemon line and is free to download and play on mobile phones. It is perhaps the first game to successfully use Mixed Reality gaming, to create a truly compelling experience. The game blends real life locations and activity with the in game action.
“The clever bit is that the in game Pokestops and gyms are assigned to real world locations”
Players, known as trainers, must find, track and capture Pokemon. They need to visit “Pokestops” where they can top up their supplies and resources free of charge. Players can visit “Pokegyms” to battle other trainer’s Pokemon in order to receive items and “Pokecoins”. Players join one of three teams, yellow “Instinct”, blue “Mystic” and red “Valor” and these teams compete to control the gyms. The clever bit is that the in game Pokestops and gyms are assigned to real world locations and in order to get to them, players need to travel to these places in the real world. Pokestops and Pokegyms are usually sited at places of interests such as monuments, popular shops, buildings or churches. To catch “wild” pokemon, it is necessary to move in the real world in order to track and capture them.
The game is played on an on screen map of your real surroundings, and to move to a location on the on screen map you MUST move to that place in real life.
The game requires players to actually get off the sofa and out of the house and to explore their local town or city, in order to make any in game progress. And, people it seems are doing just that. This is why the game is being credited with helping improve people’s physical and mental health.
6 ways Pokemon Go (might) improve health
Movement – It is getting people moving. Remember, to get somewhere in the game you have to actually go there in reality. You need to move around A LOT to play.
Fresh air and sunshine – It is lifting people off the sofa and out of the gym and into the fresh air of the real world.
Purposeful exploration – It is encouraging people to explore their local surroundings. I have seen whole families out walking in the sunshine, phones in hand.
Social contact – It is promoting social interaction and connections. A neighbour approached me as I walked back from my local shop. Was I catching a pokemon? Yes I was. We have never spoken before.
Working towards goals – It is motivating goal driven behaviour. People with depression and anxiety are reporting improvements in symptoms after playing the game.
Flow – The game element like many other games provides a relaxing state of mental “flow”.
Good cheer – It is cheering people up. Let’s face it, 2016 has seen some bad news so far. It’s nice to experience something that feels like progress.
But is it safe?
If you already know about Pokemon Go, then you will probably have heard of strange things happening to people playing the game. Did a group of teenagers get trapped down a mine tracking Pokemon? Didn’t that couple walk of a cliff playing the game? Pokemon enthusiasts reason that if huge numbers of people spend millions of collective hours doing a particular activity then some strange and unfortunate events are a statistical certainty. But, it is true that the game is distracting and people need to remain aware of their surroundings and safety when playing.
People worry too about the safety of children. The game encourages them to go outside and visit new places where they might come into contact with other people playing the game. Advocates will be quick to point out that there is actually no way to directly interact or communicate with other players in the game itself, and that enforcing boundaries for where your children are allowed to play was a problem before this game came along. However, concerns about online and physical safety are understandable.
Why I am really excited about Pokemon Go?
Perhaps there is a little too much hype surrounding the health benefits of Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is not a panacea to societies physical and mental ills. However, the underlying achievements of getting so many people moving, and strangers talking about a shared topic is certainly impressive.
The most interesting thing about Pokemon Go is that it represents the first successful use of Mixed and Augmented Reality technology to influence the behaviour and movement of large numbers of people.
Physical technologies such as GPS, online maps, digital compasses, mobile internet and digital cameras have been combined with gaming concepts such as unique virtual items, in game currency, narrative, virtual locations, character progression and development and virtual reward and recognition systems (those badges). A virtual layer can now be added to reality and experienced together by large numbers of people.
I am genuinely excited to see where application developers will take this combination of Mixed Reality and gamification in the future.
Read more about the power of narratives here
Read more about gamification and what we can learn about personal development from video games here
People are likely to engage with the next generation of Mixed Reality applications because they are fun, useful and compelling. For the most successful applications, I suspect that health and safety benefits will be secondary to the main experience.
The future of mixed reality?
Better applications to help people get active and fight the obesity epidemic?
Applications to help people with memory problems navigate, understand and remember the world?
Applications which reward healthy activity with real world perks such as vouchers?
More compelling experiences in fitness and training applications?
Ways to influence the movement of large crowds to improve safety and flow at big events or busy locations such as airports?
The more impressive ideas are probably still waiting to be thought up and will surprise us.
Back to reality
This week I was pleased to discover a new addition to the surgery. It turns out that we are a Pokestop, so I am unlikely to ever run out of poke balls. There is also a Pokemon Gym at the Baptist Church next door.
As I walked to my car yesterday, I actually talked to a group of teenagers who were stood with their phones in hand outside the surgery.
Were they catching pokemon?
Yes they were.
What do you think about Pokemon Go and the suggested health benefits?
What are possible applications for Mixed Reality applications?
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