Could Pokémon Go actually make the world healthier and happier? - Technical.ly Philly

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Jul. 25, 2016 10:30 am

Could Pokémon Go actually make the world healthier and happier?

Two Jefferson medical students think so. They conducted an informal survey in Washington Square Park and found evidence of its physical and mental health benefits.
Thanks for thinking about our health, Pikachu.

Thanks for thinking about our health, Pikachu.

(Photo by Flickr user Jordan Bajc, used under a Creative Commons license)

In the last two weeks, smartphone users have been consumed by the ability of their phone to transport them into an augmented reality world that mimics the Pokémon adventures created by Nintendo in the ’90s.

Such is the craze to catch Pokémon, that we’ve even noticed grown adults running around Washington Square Park to catch “clefairy,” a rare Pokémon. The game includes goodies like eggs that you can hatch into a Pokémon. So how do you make the eggs hatch? By walking certain distances that registers on your phone’s accelerometer. As medical students, we believe those in healthcare need to tune in and pay attention to this ’90s comeback.

This “healthification” of a game is absolutely fascinating. We can intuitively see that this game is encouraging people to be active, when you observe all the people, especially kids who would otherwise be staying home playing video games, out and about in the park playing Pokemon.

We in the medical world, especially those working in the intersection between health and technology, need to pay attention to this app.

As medical students, we like our numbers and our studies, so we conducted an informal study of Pokémon players in Washington Square Park one afternoon. Pokémon Go players are incredibly easy (and obvious) to spot, with their phones out as if they were tourists.

We asked these players about their experience with the newly launched app. The response was astounding. Not one person turned us away and all were wildly interested in being able to discuss their Pokémon Go status. One user mused that he’s easily walked more than double he used to in the past five days because of this app. When prompted to show some stats, he whipped out his Fitbit and showed us how before the launch of Pokémon Go, he was walking a mere 3,000 steps a day. Somewhat of a sedentary lifestyle. After his downloading the app, the same person showed us he was averaging an astonishing 15,000 steps per day — one that would be considered an active and healthy lifestyle.

From a medical standpoint, this is relevant. Even just walking for 45 minutes a day has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, improve mood and lead to longer life. This game is clearly pushing people to be active.

We frequently encountered people who said they regularly interacted with strangers, about three-to-four strangers per day, since downloading the app.

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“It just makes it so much easier to approach people,” said the Fitbit Pokémon player we met. “There is a sense of community and everyone’s doing the same thing.”

Those we surveyed noted that the people they interacted with ranged across age, gender and racial groups, showing the game’s universal appeal, even among older generations. Positive socialization is a key factor in improving mental health. Could Pokémon Go actually improve people’s mood? We think it’s possible.

One user we surveyed told us the game has helped him with his clinical depression. Just the mere fact of going out in nature, walking and talking to people, can do wonders for a person’s wellbeing.

We in the medical world, especially those working in the intersection between health and technology, need to pay attention to this app. What can we learn from Pokémon Go’s success and how can we apply it to other technology or mobile applications that seek to change health behavior?

Whether the game will last or not, thanks to Pokémon Go, being healthy has become the new fad.

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