Could Pokémon Go be your new fitness tracker?

By | September 22, 2016

pokemon-1581771_960_720Do you play Pokémon Go? Well if you don’t, I’m sure you know at least 2-3 other people who do.  Although I hadn’t ever played the game before writing this post, I can safely think of about 4 friends who have invested a significant amount of time and energy into their Pokémon collection thus far.

If you’re not too familiar with Pokémon Go, it released in July of 2016 and Wikipedia describes it as an augmented reality game that uses player’s GPS within their mobile device to locate and capture Pokémon.  To give you an idea of the game’s popularity, a recent article estimated there are roughly about 9.5 million active daily Pokémon Go users in the U.S. alone.  With the new surge of Pokémon Go players, the game has also received a lot of praise for encouraging players (aka Pokémon Trainers) to get outside and be active.  Even though I haven’t been a Pokémon trainer for all that long, I can verify I’ve seen the influence Pokémon Go can have on activity levels.  A friend of mine recently started posting to her social media streams about her weekend adventures to various nature trails, parks, and local historical sites, not because she suddenly had an interest in visiting them, but because she takes her kids there to go Pokémon hunting.

With the millions of users and hype surrounding Pokémon Go, it does make me wonder, is this just a fad that will end up fading away in the near future? Will all the users eventually resume their sedentary lifestyles and will my friend’s family eventually get tired of their weekend adventures?  To give you a better idea of why I’m asking these questions about Pokémon Go, let’s take a look at some research surrounding activity trackers (such as Fitbit or Jawbone).  A report by Endeavour Partners discusses how 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 18 own an activity tracker; however, a third of them stop using their device within the first six months.  Activity trackers may encourage short-term behavior change, but they don’t appear to drive long-term engagement.  At this point, Pokémon Go has been available for about 3 months, so only time will tell if Pokémon trainers will fall into a similar pattern.

Knowing Pokémon Trainers might get tired of trying to “catch ‘em all” in the near future, I wonder if there is anything different about Pokémon Go that might encourage users to keep going?  What sets it apart from a typical activity tracker?  An article interviewing Pokémon Go players and researchers identified that the fitness motivations disguised as a game makes a big difference.  The interviewees in the article also state that the methods of motivating users in Pokémon Go are more effective and more memorable when compared to the motivation tactics used in Fitbit.  For example, Pokémon Go encourages users to continuing playing by offering the opportunity to evolve their Pokémon and battle rivals.

From a personal standpoint, I found the Pokémon Go to be fun.  It was pretty enjoyable to see the Pokémon superimposed in real world settings (augmented reality), and that did make the game feel more realistic for me.  As someone who recently fell off the activity tracker train, I’ve been trying to get back in the habit of wearing one. While Pokémon Go didn’t dramatically increase my daily activity, it did encourage me to look at my tracker more often to see how many more steps I had accumulated from playing.  Turns out, I’m not the only one who experienced this while playing the game, the final article I’ll mention in this post discusses that exact phenomenon.  Although the article discusses long-time Fitbit users, as opposed to new users, it appears that Pokémon Go may be causing some Fitbit users to have a renewed interest in tracking their daily activity.

Alexa Ortiz

Alexa Ortiz

Health IT Scientist at RTI International
Alexa Ortiz graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Before receiving her graduate degree she was a practicing nurse for five years and has clinical experience in the field of both Cardiology and Neurology. In 2014 she received a Master of Science in Nursing specializing in nursing informatics from Duke University. Presently, she works as a Health IT Scientist at RTI International in the Center for Digital Health and Clinical Informatics. Despite no longer working in a clinical setting, she continues to maintain an active nurse license in the state of North Carolina. Her primary areas of research at RTI International focus on the clinical implementation of health information technology and the evaluation of consumer wearable devices.
Alexa Ortiz

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About Alexa Ortiz

Alexa Ortiz graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Before receiving her graduate degree she was a practicing nurse for five years and has clinical experience in the field of both Cardiology and Neurology. In 2014 she received a Master of Science in Nursing specializing in nursing informatics from Duke University. Presently, she works as a Health IT Scientist at RTI International in the Center for Digital Health and Clinical Informatics. Despite no longer working in a clinical setting, she continues to maintain an active nurse license in the state of North Carolina. Her primary areas of research at RTI International focus on the clinical implementation of health information technology and the evaluation of consumer wearable devices.