It’s a fast-growing fitness app that wasn’t intended to be one. Crippling servers, blowing up social media and getting kids and Millennials moving, Pokémon Go has been an instant hit since it launched last week. Pokémon Go, which uses augmented reality to allow users to capture monsters in real life, has an estimated 7.5 million downloads in its one-week life -- putting it on track to outpace Twitter's daily active user count. There is a surge of Google searches for all things Pokémon. It’s bigger than Tinder. And it isn’t even worldwide yet.
Pokémon Go uses the player's phone camera and GPS, so players must move around in order to advance. One player even logged 24 miles over the course of a couple of days walking around San Francisco.
As soon as the game is on, players are directed to head out to prominent local landmarks, called “Pokestops,” where they can gather supplies such as “Pokeballs,” used to hurl at the online pocket monsters that appear on the screen. Just hatching the eggs requires a commitment of one to three miles for incubation to complete. Driving is out of the question, as users must stay below the 10 or 15-mile-per-hour speed limit.
In a tweet from @CatchEmAll, a Pokémon Go Twitter account that may or may not be official, a Fitbit graph image showing a spike in activity sits above a caption reading, “shoutout to everyone playing #PokemonGo whose Fitbits have no clue what happened 5 days ago.”
Whatever Pokémon Masters see in the app, digital health afficianados see a number of possible health perks, from the exercise from walking, the fresh air and sunshine, and the health benefits of human interaction. While it’s too new to have much data, anecdotal evidence shows that Pokémon Go could be a boon to an individual’s exercise and well-being. On Twitter, Chris Hogg, COO of Propeller Health called it “the most interesting health app to launch in a long time”.
Apparently, seeing the world through Pokémon-themed glasses (well, smartphone camera) is all it takes to get some people walking, running, jumping and scrambling through their communities. It’s at the top of iOS charts, but it's also evident in the scores of people walking with their eyes glued firmly to their phones. While that might not seem like a new image, the difference here is that movement is essential.
And it’s not just physical health. People have reported the game being a boon for their social life and for quelling anxiety, inspiring them to meet up with users face to face in Pokémon “gyms,” and simply giving then a reason to leave the house. Twitter user Drew Dale, for instance, tweeted, “#PokemonGo is going to do wonders for my mental health, providing me with purpose and reason to go outside at last.”
Bringing fitness and games together isn’t new for Nintendo, as the company proved with the Wii, and games like Wii Fit, when it debuted in 2007. The company has also experimented with activity trackers via the Wii Fit Meter and a pedometer called the PokeWalker before that. However, those of us virtually hulu-hooping and boxing in our living rooms knew what we were getting into – exercise – whereas Pokémon Go sneaks that in under the banner of collecting Squirtles, Magikarps or Rattatas.
To be fair, not all activity Pokémon is encouraging is exactly health-conscious. While jaywalking can be dangerous, the appearance of a rare character in the middle of a street may incite a player to suspend all knowledge of traffic safety and plunge in. Photos of bruises and cuts abound, reportedly because of the game, and there have been plenty of screenshots of characters on car dashboards, busy intersections and other locations that may not be entirely appropriate.
On one social media site, a man uploaded a screenshot photo of his wife in labor, with a Pokémon character on the bottom of the screen, captioned, “When your wife is about to have a baby and a Pokemon shows up and you have to low-key catch it…”