Pokemon is once again sweeping the world by storm. Pokemon Go is a free smartphone app that brings the fantasy world of Pokemon into our world.
Just like some of us did on our GameBoys when we were kids, players roam the world in search of these colourful creatures in a quest to “catch ‘em all”.
But this time, players aren’t engaging with a screen and using only their fingers and thumbs. The CBC has a good description of the craze, and what it amounts to is that players are getting out into the real world, using their feet and legs to walk or cycle their towns and cities, capturing Pokemon that might be around the corner, or in the next block.
So how does Pokemon Go relate to physical literacy, and by extension our health and wellness?
While it is a very new app (with a few hiccups, including safety and privacy concerns), Pokemon Go has, so far, been wildly popular. The app is, so far, only officially available in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., and was released only two weeks ago.
More people have downloaded Pokemon Go than are using Instagram and Snapchat, and it’s approaching Twitter levels. Nintendo’s stocks have risen to their highest in over 30 years. It is truly a craze.
Guest post by Gregory Kidd
Greg is the physical literacy and nature exploration coordinator at Little Mountain Neighbourhood House (and on Facebook) in Vancouver. LMNH has programs aimed at developing the fundamental movement skills in youth aged 2 through 12, as well as providing education and training regarding health and physical literacy for families and professionals. The programs run at partner locations, including school and community centres, throughout the year.
But unlike some video games, this one isn’t keeping kids on the couch.
Instead, Pokemon Go offers a glimpse into the future, where technological forms of entertainment can be blended with our own real world for a more intimate experience using a technique called augmented reality.
This has already been present in sport for years. Think of the “down” and “distance” markers that show up on the field when you watch football on television. The lines that show how far teams need to travel to get a first down aren’t really there, but they enhance the viewing experience.
Educators and professionals already use technology such as touch screens and mobile applications for the purpose of teaching physical literacy and promoting health because they are great for demonstrating, teaching, correcting, and measuring.
If you’ve ever listened to music or a podcast while exercising, you have actually augmented your reality.
Now think about the themes of exploration and movement that anchor Pokemon Go, and allow for a few more years of development.
It’s not difficult to imagine a Pokemon-themed PE program where students get to go into the world of Pokemon world and where they live out a fantasy of being a Pokemon trainer. They would be actively exploring their school yard or park and practicing their fundamental movement skills (FMS) along the way (I couldn’t have been the only 8-year-old who learned to throw not only from baseball, but by pretending to catch Pokemon in my backyard).
Perhaps most importantly, augmented reality can be another strategy to develop a passion for active living in youth. Because let’s be honest, accessible fitness is not always fun. Not everyone has the resources to find a mountain to hike, a trail to cycle, or a race to run. Some are stuck with a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike.
Technology is already being used to help people exercise. The smartphone app “Zombies, Run!” challenges the listener to run further and faster by making it seem like they are being chased by actual zombies. It’s quite a way to spice up a treadmill session.
Is your tennis partner not available? As technology improves, perhaps you’ll be able to play a game of real-life tennis against Mario, complete with all the authenticity and physical exertion of the sport, as opposed to just the flick of a controller or push of a button we have now.
What about glasses that augment your vision so that while you are practicing yoga in the gymnasium you see yourself instead on a soothing, sunset beach. Or in the mountains? Imagine cultural dance units in elementary schools where students are actually in the place that dance is from.
There are also implications for the corporate world. Already, office workers who two weeks ago were sitting at their desks playing games over lunch are now getting outside and walking in search of Pokemon. People are getting off the bus a stop or two early, or are choosing to walk rather than drive to the grocery store.
We know of the mental health benefits that come from being outside and being active. Pokemon Go players have been tweeting about how they have felt relief from their anxiety and depression from spending the entire weekend outside searching for Pokemon. Others who have led sedentary lives are now looking forward to getting outside and moving.
It might sound silly and far-fetched to some; to physical education traditionalists it might sound like outright blasphemy. But technology and physical literacy are not mutually exclusive.
Augmented reality will never replace the authentic feel of sport participation, or the fun of summer camp and FMS games, or the social and mental-health building potential that comes from participating.
Our sport culture will always be here, but so will screen culture. We are only just beginning to discover how we can integrate them to build a healthy community. If it is fun, inclusive, safe, and active, then why not?