Friday, July 22, 2016

Older adults are also chasing Pokémon


Pokémon fever swept through my town this summer, just as it did throughout the US, Europe and other regions. In my neighborhood, on the downtown sidewalks and in shopping malls, I saw individuals and small groups checking the screens on their mobile phones as they walked toward some unknown destination.

They were playing Pokémon Go, a free mobile game that caught on in a big way with both young people and, perhaps surprisingly, with older adults. And while there have been news reports about people putting their safety at risk while chasing cartoon creatures, the game is proving to be a great motivator to get people on their feet and out into the fresh air.

Pokémon Go is a game that fuses a virtual fantasy environment with the real world in an approach known as augmented reality. The game uses your mobile phone’s GPS mapping ability to display a real-time map of their current location, just like mapping programs that provide driving directions.

But these maps also show the location of “pocket monsters,” the small fictional creatures that show up in public areas. When a player encounters one of the mini-monsters, the game activates the phone’s camera to show a Drowzee, Pidgey, Zubat or Rattata hovering in the foreground of a live photo.

People who play the game are Pokémon Trainers. Their goal is to capture the little critters and train them to use in battle against other trainers at meeting places called gyms. The only way to collect Pokémon is to go outside and look for them.

Players began reporting online that chasing monsters has helped them reach their daily step goals and some said they’ve lost weight playing Pokémon Go. Players used their Twitter accounts to post notes like this: 

“My legs are actually sore from all the walking I did yesterday playing pokemon go...who needs a gym membership.”

The makers of Cardiogram, an app for the Apple Watch that tracks heart rate data, said it saw a significant surge in the app users’ overall exercise the weekend after Pokémon Go launched. Jawbone, which makes the UP fitness tracker, reported a similar increase in exercise that coincided with the arrival of Pokémon Go.

Businesses and organizations began using the game to connect with some of those walkers. Animal shelters like the one in Muncie, IN, pitched Pokémon trainers to stop in and take a shelter dog with them on their ramblings. Amusement parks and zoos in Florida offered discounted admissions for Pokémon Go players and created special events that included Pokémon characters to look for. And Pokémon pub crawls popped up in Pittsburgh, Denver, San Francisco and other cities.

The game can also be a distraction, sometimes with dire consequences. Players have crashed cars trying to play while driving and gotten hit by cars while crossing the street. Others have been arrested for trespassing and two men fell off a cliff in Southern California after climbing over a fence in search of Pokémon. That’s why players see this advisory when the game launches:  “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”

The Pokémon Go app explains how the game works when a new player logs in. There are more tips for beginners online at iMore and USA Today.


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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.


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