“Pokémon GO doesn’t help people to stay fit and healthy,” the Mail Online reports. A survey of US players of the popular augmented reality game found the average player’s daily step rate fell back to pre-game levels after six weeks.
Pokémon GO is an app which encourages players to explore real-world destinations while “catching” Pokémon (fantasy monsters). Players are also encouraged to walk certain distances, such as 5km, to “incubate” Pokémon eggs.
The survey tracked steps of adult players of the game and found people walked for an average 11 minutes more per day in the first week they downloaded the game, but that this effect didn’t last.
Researchers recorded an average daily increase of 995 steps in the first week of downloading the game. This is well below the usual effect of interventions aimed at increasing walking (usually a target of 2,500 extra steps a day).
However, the study was only in young adults aged 18 to 35, so we don’t know if the results would be different in children, or other groups.
There could also be other benefits to playing the game apart from increased fitness. There were (unverified) media reports that Pokémon GO helped players cope with mental health problems such as depression.
While the study results were disappointing, the researchers believe there is still potential for augmented reality games to increase physical exercise, provided people’s interest can be sustained.
In conclusion the results of the study are disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. The popularity of video games comes and goes, and as the novelty wears off, people are likely to play and engage less.
However, the game was not designed as a means of increasing physical activity. The fact that it did so, at least in the short term, shows that melding virtual reality and the real world may have the potential to change people’s health behaviour.
The study takes advantage of technology not specifically aimed at improving health, but with the potential to do so. Aside from the Pokémon game, the researchers targeted participants with iPhones capable of recording people’s steps by default, rather than relying on people’s estimates of their walking time, or having to issue them with accelerometers.
It also used a recruitment website for online workers to recruit study participants, enabling it to reach a large number of people quickly.
While these methods may make it quick and easy to conduct research, they do limit the type of people recruited to the study. People seeking online work, and who own iPhones, may have different levels of physical activity than the general population, for example. The results may be more relevant to the US than the UK.
Also, by measuring only the steps people take while carrying their phones, the researchers may miss other physical activity (such as swimming or playing sport) where the phones are left behind. This would have the effect of artificially inflating the effect of any increase in activity attributable to playing Pokémon GO.
The key to increasing physical activity seems to be to find something you like doing, whether that’s playing football or Pokémon GO. To sustain increased activity levels, it’s best to look for enjoyable activities that can fit into your daily routine.
Source: NHS Choices