A collaboration by Elan Paulson (Fitbit Loser), Caroline Whippey (Girl Gamer), and Todd McIntyre (VR Game Designer)
Pokemon Go has created a wave of unwitting exercisers. There are stories about young people suddenly walking tens of miles to capture Pokemon. And the exercise is often highly social. Parents play with children. Neighbours are meeting each other for the first time. It’s even become the new way to hook up, having been hailed as “the new Tinder”.
This recent technology isn’t the first to get folks out into the sunlight and talking with each other. Designed to capture and track physical activity data points, like Pokemon Go Fitbits and other quantified self technologies offer instant activity feedback, virtual goals and rewards, and opportunities for friendly competition with others.
But while Fitbit is a primarily an exercise technology that tries to convince exercisers they are having fun, Pokemon Go-ers more likely to game for the fun rather than the exercise.
Perhaps most notably, Pokemon Go now has a reputation for bringing young and old “pasty basement dwelling gamers” out into the sunlight, and offers to even the most withdrawn and reserved gamers a form of social inclusion. Pokemon Go brings physical activity into the stereotypically sedentary hobby of gaming, and community for the socially anxious.
However, gaming traditions long before Pokemon Go have gotten the “pasty whites” outside and connecting with other gamers. An outgrowth of table-top role-playing games, activities such as LARPing (live action role playing) and Cosplay are forms of highly physical and interactive forms of physical gaming. Time and effort are spent creating costumes and characters that are acted out in real time through a major event or live play, which can sometimes go on for days at a time.
We think Pokemon Go is has become popular not for its exercise or gaming potential, but for its design and branding. Like World of Warcraft (WoW) before it, Pokemon Go is simple, accessible, easy to understand, visually appealing (and often highly addictive). It is known in the game design industry as a “gateway game” that happens to give players more than a “monitor tan.”
The final word? Pokemon Go mirrors other current forms of technology-mediated exercise-turned-game, and comes from a long history of inside-turned-outside game. However, players getting their Poke-fitness on are propelled primarily not by the benefits of exercise but by a combination of social opportunity, hype, and (as will be discussed in the following section), brand recognition.