In August a friend of mine told me he had started playing Pokémon Go. Pokémon Go is a smartphone game in which players search real world locations in order to “catch” imaginary cartoon characters appearing on their screen. Thanks to the game my friend was slowly but steadily increasing his physical activity level day by day. He was so eager to catch as many Pokémons as possible so he was actually jogging, not just walking, to the different Pokémon locations. Pokémon Go has been downloaded more than 500 million times since its launch in July and has been a source of motivation for physical activity for both children and adults.
However, while promising, my friend’s physical activity level was not going to last, according to the latest study from Harvard University, published in the British Medical Journal. The study consisted of two groups. Both groups had their steps measured for 4 weeks. Then one group downloaded Pokémon Go (players), while the other group (non-players) did not. Both groups continued to measure steps for 6 weeks. During the 4 weeks before downloading Pokémon Go, players took an average of 4256 steps daily while the non-players took an average of 4126 steps daily. After the download, players increased their daily steps to an average of 5123 steps per day during the first week. However, after the first week the number of steps gradually decreased and by week six the players were no longer taking more steps than they had before the download. The number of steps for non- players remained relatively stable for the duration of the study.
Even though this study indicates that the physical activity boost does not last, it demonstrates that games like Pokémon Go can motivate and increase physical activity, at least for some weeks. However, the 1 million dollar question is on how to make games like Pokémon Go work in the long run.
Line Skarsem Reitlo, PhD student at CERG