Pokémon Go a health tool?

Playing Pokemon Go.

Pokémon Go may not only be helping people get some exercise, but also serve as a way to connect with patients, GP registrar Christopher Timms has written in MJA InSight today.

And health professionals have a role in driving positive gaming, he says.

In a discussion of the Pokémon Go phenomenon, Dr Timms says that the smartphone game can have some positives in terms of encouraging people to be more active, as they walk around in search of Pokémon to catch.

“Walking is an integral part of the game – allowing players to capture more Pokémon, hatch eggs or obtain useful tools, such as health potions,” he writes.

“It’s the walking part of the game that may just make Pokémon Go an exciting tool that health care professionals should be aware of, and one that highlights the need for further discussion about the use of video gaming in health care.

“An in-game feature, called a ‘lure’, can be used to create a location abundant in Pokémon. Now, imagine how the ability to attract people to locations could be used for health.

“If particular demographics could be targeted, potential uses might be a rare Pokémon appearing near a health careers booth in a rural area, near a dietitian’s stall or appearing at a mental health awareness event.

“In the same way we learn about Peppa Pig so we can interact with our younger patients, we should understand gaming in order to better connect with our patients who are gamers,” he writes.

“In an innovative Australia, Pokémon is now an active game, many of our patients are gamers and gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry that fills stadiums to watch ‘e-sports’.

Just as health professionals must be at the centre of health care policy formation, they must be involved in driving positive gaming.”

Pokémon Go has also attracted the attention of Research Australia, which is set to release the results on its poll on activity tracking devices in coming weeks.

The forthcoming poll shows that nearly a fifth of Australians use an activity tracking device daily or nearly daily. The data was collected from 30 May to 4 June.

“There are a couple of things running in parallel here,” says Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin.

“Firstly, you have an app which is getting gaming – often a sedentary affair – out of the living room and into the world, and that can only have immediate health benefits.

“Walking has been described as the nearest thing to a perfect exercise as it costs nothing, can be done almost anywhere and is suitable for people of all fitness and skill levels.

“But more broadly, the interactive and inherently social nature of Pokémon Go has implications for walking and running apps which often don’t really give back.

“Our survey showed that 19% of the population currently actively tracks their exercise, and three quarters of those would be willing to share that data with health and medical researchers.

“Collecting mass data of a diverse segment of the Australian population is no easy feat – but with a mainstream app to do the heavy lifting, furthering that collection for research purposes is feasible.

“That’s why an app like Pokémon Go has got our attention, because if the statistics translate to gamers then we have a whole dataset that we can catch (pun intended) for research.

“A lot has been said up until now about the privacy implications from Pokémon Go, but not the incredible potential applications for the health and medical community. This is our Pikachu.”

Meanwhile, earlier this month Tasmanian police issued a call to players to be careful while playing.

“Over the last few days police have seen an increase in the number of call about suspicious vehicles and behaviour and people driving while using mobile phones, with the explanation that drivers are ‘looking for Pokemon’,” police said in a statement.

“Police are urging people to be aware that even if it’s a rare Pokemon, driving dangerously is just not worth it.”

Pokemon Go players are reminded:

  1. Never Pokemon Go and drive. It is not legal or safe to drive while using a mobile phone. If you want to hunt for Pokemon in a car, ask someone else to drive.
  1. Never stop in dangerous locations, especially in the middle of intersections, and do not distract your driver with your hunt.
  1. When chasing Pokemon on foot, please look up, pay attention to your surroundings and watch where you are going. Be alert when crossing the road and never stand in the middle of busy roads.
  1. Do not go onto private property or areas that you usually would not go if you weren’t playing the game. Your attempts to capture a Pokemon could be considered suspicious behaviour by others, who then call police.

Read our four tips to becoming a polite Pokemon Go player.

Main image of players in Rhodes park by Luke Rodley.

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    Further to point 3 – remember to stand out of the way of foot-traffic thoroughfares….

    The game uses a general GPS tracker, so you don’t have to be right on the spot – step out of people’s way when trying to catch the last magikarp needed to evolve your gyarados.

  2. Geoff

    OR it could be bad for health: our local beach and foreshore has always been popular with walkers and cyclists but has now been taken over by gamers, ambling (not exercise walking) looking down at their phones, stopping dead suddenly, often 4 abreast and not watching surrounding foot traffic. Walkers can no longer get a parking space and cyclists find it just too unpleasant avoiding collisions with gamers who are in a different universe.

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