Is Pokemon Go a Fitness Issue? Is it A Feminist Issue? Part 1 (Guest Post)

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for bringing young and old “pasty basement dwelling gamers” out into the sunlight, and offers to even the most withdrawn and reserved gamers a form of social inclusion.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.




7 thoughts on “Is Pokemon Go a Fitness Issue? Is it A Feminist Issue? Part 1 (Guest Post)

    1. My mother was hilarious when she played Wii, particularly when she found a “surgery” game that appealed to her healthcare background. I would argue that, on one hand, it is far more corporeal than Wii because folks are out in the world, engaging with the city and its people. And, on the other hand, it doesn’t try to simulate the activities you see on Wii, which takes practice and timing. The catching of the Pokemon takes virtually no skill at all. As we say, the exercise is far more incidental (I have a friend who will go as close as he can to a gym without actually having to stand up to be inside it).

    1. My son got a date through it and we’ve been driving through the countryside noting significant landmarks b/c there are poke-significant things there. The only downside from the parenting angle? The need for data. Oh and I love all the people hanging out in front of nearby Catholic church trying to keep it in the hands of Mystic. Funny stuff.

    2. I think that most people playing don’t think much about what it all means. But I will say, upon reflection, that given the level of interest and commitment we’re lucky it’s structured to be a relatively harmless game where there’s lots of opportunity for people to have access to it. It could have been made to be much more competitive and hierarchical. But that’s for another post!

  1. My boyfriend plays, and due to medical conditions, he is rather sedentary, normally. Playing Pokemon has gotten him out and about – and here is the important thing, I think – finding out that places are much closer than he thought. The same thing happened to me when I got a dog. Once I started walking in nearby neighborhoods, I started realizing how easy they were to get to. I haven’t driven there since! For my boyfriend, I mentioned a few times that a park nearby was in easy walking distance and had lots of benches, so it would be a good place to walk a bit if he wanted, but it wasn’t until the Pokemon lured him out that he found out for himself. That is an incredible benefit that will last even after the fad wears itself out.

    1. Thanks for your response! I agree–there are many cool finds for folks who travel in their neighborhoods. And I’m glad that your bf “lured” him out into the world to find these municipal treasures. On my post about “party runs” someone stated “as long as it gets people outside” or something to that effect. I don’t disagree with the effect, but I wonder whether long-term healthy practices need to be mindful and intentional, or whether as a culture we can be satisfied with essentially “tricking” people into exercise. Sounds like a good idea for another FIAFI post…

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