Mark Twain (probably falsely) is attributed as saying, “The game of golf is a good walk spoiled.” Having played just a few rounds of golf in life, I can attest to this. Golf can be so engrossing that the beautiful courses where it is played – full of rolling hills, water features, tree groves and birdsong – are not really a source of enjoyment or relaxation. Rather, these landscaping features become frustrating obstacles to the golfer. You walk in golf, but you are so immersed in the game, you sometimes forget about everything else.
And so it is with Pokemon Go, the new game that has caught on like wildfire. My ten year old daughter discovered it while on a family vacation this summer and she managed to suck us all in. At first I started playing to engage with her and my nieces and nephews in some friendly family fun. It’s a novel thing to look around with your phone camera and find a little virtual reality animal sitting on the floor, in your dishwasher, on a table or in your yard. The idea with the game is that you throw a PokeBall at these characters to catch them to collect points. In order to catch more and more of these little fellows, you have to walk around. Around your house, around the block, around the city. You have to walk to incubate “eggs” that turn into more characters. You collect more eggs if you walk around even more and visit nearby sites (PokeStops).
At one point shortly after learning this game, I snuck out at night to swipe a few more PokeStops and I realized that I was falling victim to gamification. I was walking around purely to score points, not for exercise or to take in the view. I was walking because the game was sucking me into this clever Pokemon world. In my neighborhood, scavenger hunt style, I found 4 historical facts, 3 statues and a labyrinth nearby that I had never seen or heard of before (which is saying something because I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 12 years). So much fun! This game was definitely spoiling my walk. But is that so bad?
Now, you should know that over the past few years I’ve owned a Jawbone, several Fitbits and thoroughly enjoy the friendly step-taking competition between friends and family. I’m into this kind of thing. So Pokemon Go, as a form of gaming to encourage fitness is a great idea in my view. It’s one of a number of strategies researchers, gamers and educators are using help us become less stressed, more active and eat better. For example, games like Candy Crush Saga, Bejewelled and Tetris have been shown to reduce cravings for food, drugs, cigarettes and other addictive habits by occupying the visual processing center of the brain, thereby reducing the vividness of naturally occurring cravings. See “How Gamification Can Improve Your Health.”
Gaming and new virtual and “augmented” or virtual reality experiences are more than just fun past-times, they are testing grounds for some pretty incredible technologies. What we learn from games like this may soon be influencing how we drive cars, shop and generally view our world. In the past 12 months, early stage venture capitalist funds and corporations have invested $2 Billion in virtual and augmented reality technology according to Touchstone Research.
So while I’m walking around like a zombie catching virtual pets, in a way, I’m also contributing to science and building the economy of the future. And bonding with my daughter. Either way, I figure it’s a good thing.