Whether you are a gamer or not, you would have had to have been living under a rock to miss the phenomenon that has swept the world upon its release this week – Pokemon Go. In essence it is simply a video game, but the significant difference with this game to any others is it requires players to physical explore the world around them, walking, running and cycling to discover Pokemon in the surrounding area. Niantic, the game designers, are reportedly making $1.6 million a day, and the game is rapidly soaring to the top of the app with the most active daily users worldwide. This for a game that was only released last week in the US, and on Thursday in the UK. But my key interest in the phenomenon is this – should members of the PE and health community embrace a video game if it is getting young people more active?

I took the plunge this morning and downloaded the game, then proceeded to play it on my walk to the village shop to pick up some milk. It is a 4 minute walk one way, but I still managed to come across three people under the age of 25 playing the game (just look out for people walking with their phone held out in front of them). If the game did not exist would these three young people be out in the village taking a walk? I highly doubt it. So my first conclusion is quite simple:

Pokemon Go will increase the amount of young people going for walks

If you ignore the fact it is a video game doing this, I’m sure every professional surrounding PE and health will agree that is a positive consequence. Let us assume that many of the players of this game were already gamers beforehand. The very nature of video gaming until this point was sedentary, involving zero requirement to be active (I am ignoring the 2006 fad of the Nintendo Wii, which was only really good to get you active at christmas time). However, my counter argument is this:

I do not believe the hobby of going for walks will continue for most once the game ceases to exist

If, like many other mobile games or apps, this phenomenon is short lived, say less than 6 months, I do not believe we will see an increase in young people taking walks for the sake of it. Once the game is no longer popular, those used to living a sedentary lifestyle will continue to do so. I do not believe for most players, the enjoyment of the walk will outshine the enjoyment of finding a new Pokemon on the other side of your village. However, I believe this is just the start of such a technology being used, so I am predicting:

Many other games designers will look to recreate and improve upon this model of gameplay, encouraging even more young people to be active in the future

Game designers will be sitting up and taking notice at just how quickly this has taken off, and it will not be long before other games are trying to copy the model. That can only be a good thing in my opinion, and perhaps the notion of video games being an inactive hobby will be challenged.

My concluding points all consider how PE teachers and departments could potentially embrace this phenomenon to encourage physical activity amongst their students. How about getting a member of staff in your school to start a Pokemon Go walking club? this could involve them simply walking around the local area at first, but then could extend to minibus trips to other areas nearby? Alternatively, how could you tap in to the popularity of the Pokemon theme within your lessons? I have already seen on twitter some orienteering courses that have been adapted to feature Pokemon landmarks. As outlined in my previous blog on Gamification, simply using a popular game as a theme for a lesson can increase motivation significantly.

So, my challenge to those of you reading this is – come up with a lesson that encapsulates the theme of Pokemon Go in some way, and share it with me on twitter (@leea1990). I would be really interested to see what you come up with. My opinion on something like this is that it is better to embrace rather than chastise it, and let it act as a vehicle to increase physical activity amongst your students.

I never thought I’d be sat here writing a blog about Pokemon. How times can change…

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