PokemonGo and "Gaming" Exercise

National and international news over the last few months has been less than uplifting – in fact, it’s been downright bleak. It’s enough to make you feel like maybe humans just can’t get along.

But then last week, a little game came along that’s not only reaffirmed my faith in humanity, it’s even gotten people moving around more! That’s right – I’m talking about PokemonGo. Now, you may be scoffing at my hyperbolic endorsement a bit, but bear with me as I break down PokemonGo’s genuinely remarkable ability to pair physical activity with online gaming. The partnership is so intuitive and seamless, people barely even realize they’re exercising.

For those unfamiliar, I’ll quickly break down PokemonGo’s exercise integration: one of the key components of the game is collecting animals, or “Pokemon.” In order to collect them, you have to walk around and find them. When they appear on your screen, you can press on them, and then try to collect them. Walking truly is the cornerstone of the game – you have to walk to find Pokemon, you have to walk to make the eggs of Pokemon hatch, you have to walk to get more “supplies” to collect/hunt for Pokemon, etc. (For more details, check out Kotaku’s How To Play Pokemon post)

What’s especially striking is that walking is incidental to the experience of playing PokemonGo. Instead of walking being the “object” or purpose of the game, with Pokemon cast as an incentive, the game is centered around the accumulation and evolution of the animals, with walking cast as one component of participating. In a sense, it takes components of the Cue, Routine, Reward system, but remixes them so that the reward ends up negating the need for a cue. For reference, here’s how the Cue, Routine Reward system is described by the blog 99u:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop… becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually that craving will make it easier to push throughout the gym doors every day.

It could be posited that the delight that comes through the augmented reality experience of catching Pokemon and pitting them against your competitors produces such a rush of endorphins that the means of getting there – walking – doesn’t require consciously creating a cue to remind yourself of the positive feelings you’ll get while playing the game. PokemonGo has designed game mechanics that create such a strong craving in users, the cues become unconsciously automatic. Pretty cool to think about!

It remains to be seen whether this behavior will hold in the long term, but for the short now, it’s fun as well as heartening to see more people using technology and gaming to get up, move around, and connect with one another. It’s a much needed cultural burst of sunshine among the dark clouds of civil unrest and violence that have been hanging around so far this year. So if you’ve been on the fence about downloading it onto your phone, or even if you’ve been an outright naysayer or skeptic – give it a chance and indulge in some fun, ACTIVE escapism. 

A wild Pikachu I encountered on W. 53rd between 5th and 6th Avenues. I think maybe he was on his way to do some shopping, but he ended up coming with me!

A wild Pikachu I encountered on W. 53rd between 5th and 6th Avenues. I think maybe he was on his way to do some shopping, but he ended up coming with me!