ADA — By now, we’ve all heard the horror stories from players of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that uses a mobile device’s GPS to capture virtual creatures who appear on-screen as if they were in real-world locations.
Stories of people falling off an ocean bluff while playing the game or being robbed after they were lured in by other players have dominated headlines since the mobile game was release nearly two months ago.
Despite the risk of injury or potential to become a victim of crime for players who are not paying attention to their surroundings, two local professors are examining the possible benefits of Pokémon Go.
Erica Neely, associate professor of philosophy at Ohio Northern University, and Scott Swanson, ONU’s associate professor of exercise physiology, believe the game could potentially increase social interaction and improve the health of its players.
For Neely, a self-proclaimed “gamer” who has conducted research on ethical questions surrounding video games, Pokémon Go creates a sense of community among players.
“As a society, we have lost many of our traditional gathering places and social centers,” Neely said. “However, I think people still have that innate desire to connect with others, but many do not have a clue how to go about it. Games such as Pokémon Go offer that opportunity.”
Neely added that Pokémon Go provides a “relatively painless social experience” for people and encourages them to interact and collaborate as they search for the virtual creatures. Also, she said, players instantly have something in common with each other, which allows them to bond.
“To an extent, it helps people who might not otherwise be motivated to seek out these social interactions,” she said. “When you’re doing the same thing as someone else, it gives you a natural conversation starter that allows you to connect with another person.”
Neely said the stereotype of video games, which she admits has some truth to it, is that they create isolation among players who hole up in their basements for hours on end, staring at a screen. Pokémon Go, she said, “bridges the gap” between technology and real-world interaction.
“This somewhat breaks the mold since videos games are something we tend to pursue in isolation or in an arcade with minimal interaction with others,” she said. “Pokémon Go is interesting because it takes things a step further in terms of motivating people to get outside and into the community with other people.”
It’s the “getting outside” aspect of Pokémon Go that has Swanson intrigued. He said that since the game forces players to walk — or run, if they’re so inclined — to find the virtual creatures, there could be some potential health benefits.
“This game may be getting people of all ages to pursue physical activity they previously were not doing,” Swanson said. “If playing this game gets people who would otherwise spend their spare time laying on the couch eating potato chips to get up and move, I see its benefits.”
Swanson said the largest barrier to physical activity is that many people don’t enjoy exercise. With Pokémon Go, players are having fun while exercising, even if they don’t realize what they’re doing is helping improve their overall health. He said it’s especially beneficial for the estimated 25 percent of the population who are “sedentary,” or people who do as little physical activity as possible to get through the day.
“If we can get those people to move, it has dramatic impacts on health,” he said.
According to Swanson, the Pokémon Go craze may be luring individuals into a workout regimen. However, he is unsure if playing the game will lead to serious lifestyle changes.
“I would hope that many of the people playing this game feel better, lose weight and see walking or other exercise as something they want to continue,” he said. “Are we going to change 50 percent of people? No. But even 5 to 10 percent of people still has a huge impact on public health, and how much you and I pay for health care through our tax dollars.”
Neely admitted that while there are several positive aspects to the game, there are also risks that need to be addressed. Neely said the biggest risk for players is a lack of awareness of their surroundings and the fact that there are no barriers to where you can go to catch Pokémon.
“There’s no mechanism to exclude an area from this game, so that causes some concerns,” she said. “Property owners should have some say in what occurs.”
Swanson said he doesn’t see any negative aspects to the game in terms of health, though he admitted it’s a “really low-level exercise.”
“It’s certainly not a high-impact exercise, but people have to start somewhere,” he said. “If they start seeing positive results from playing the game, then maybe they’ll start to develop better lifestyle habits. That’s certainly the hope.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twittr @bush_lima