With Growlithes and Mankeys possibly lurking around every corner, millions of people worldwide are staring at their phones and wandering around like zombies at all hours of the day.
While gamers are stereotypically thought of as couch potatoes, “Pokémon Go“ takes gaming to a whole new place: outside.
Within a week of its release, the smartphone app became the most popular mobile game, with daily usage surpassing Tinder and Twitter.
It has businesses scrambling to incorporate gameplay into their marketing campaigns to, in essence, catch all the players and their money as they walk around.
The digital reality scavenger hunt is taking people interesting places and getting them into some even more interesting situations.
During their searches, Pokemon players — “trainers,” as they are known — have had unintended adventures off screen, including discovering a dead body, nabbing an attempted murder suspect, being suckered into robberies, and walking into oncoming traffic or off cliffs.
It is, after all, a wild world out there.
Can you game yourself healthier?
“Pokémon Go” isn’t the first game to incorporate exercise.
With Nintendo’s Power Pad to “Dance, Dance Revolution,” the exercise was limited to a confined space, which users eventually found as mundane as a treadmill.
Besides burning through their phone’s battery life and data plan, “Pokémon Go” trainers are burning off calories as well.
Since “Pokémon Go” encourages people to seek new territory, the terrain changes and players could, inevitably, get in better shape because of it.
Some “Pokémon Go” users have complained of a few unwanted side effects, namely sore legs because they’re logging some excessive mileage.
Nicole Brewer, a group fitness instructor in New York City, says anything that gets people moving, communicating, and experiencing the world around them has merit and value.
“However, like with any or most activities it's all about safety first,” she told Healthline. “People who exercise or train their bodies learn to understand how to do it within their own limitations and learn how to prepare for the exercise by, for example, wearing the appropriate footwear or gear required to perform the exercise safely and optimally.”
Besides using the same common sense you would while texting (i.e. not doing it when you should be paying attention to something more important like driving), Brewer says this is just another example of how technology continues to impact the fitness industry.
“Tech allows us to monitor our health from day to day with tools that also provide motivation to live our best mobile lives,” she said. “Tech is a tool and what becomes critical is how we use it.”
Besides physical health, “Pokémon Go” players are discovering mental health benefits as well. Users are reporting the game is easing anxiety and depression by getting them outside and connecting people with similar interests and passions.
Still, some are attempting to circumvent the pains of exercise and social interaction by using “hacks,” like attaching their phones to ceiling fans or model railroads to game the game.
Others are offering to act as chauffeurs to drive around less ambitious trainers who want to catch all the Pokemon characters.
But the true warriors, those who bravely tackle the new jargon-laden augmented reality game to capture digital creatures, do so by actually completing the physical portion of the game.
Does ‘Pokémon Go’ make you exercise more?
Here in San Francisco, we do a lot of walking, and there’s never a shortage of people staring at their phones while doing so.
Then there’s Anton Paras, our loveable marketing manager here at Healthline. While his last name may also be the name of a mushroom Pokémon, this Paras is still a fun guy.
Pokemon caught Paras’ attention in elementary school, namely the Game Boy games and trading cards. He shelved that interest in high school, although references to the greater Poke culture were never lost on him.
“I definitely used a Pokemon pickup line once,” Paras, now 24, said. “It was, ‘You’re really cute. I hope you don’t mind if I Pikachu.’” (It was, unfortunately, about as effective as Magikarp’s splash attack.)
But when “Pokémon Go” came out, Paras downloaded it the first day. That evening, he was out with a friend in a restaurant and scoped out the landscape.
“When I saw Squirtle in the restaurant, I knew I was hooked,” he said, adding he ignored caution tape at the abandoned gas station across the street to catch another Pokemon in the dead of night. “No regrets.”
His fitness tracker used to log an average of 7,000 steps a day. Now with “Pokémon Go,” he’s registering more than 20,000 steps a day. (In full disclosure, his earlier numbers are low because he doesn’t carry his phone while running or playing basketball.)
Paras will walk with co-workers at lunch to catch Pokemon. He’ll go on evening walks. Since downloading the game, he’s zigzagged across Golden Gate Park, and even to the top of Strawberry Hill. Now, he walks instead of hailing an Uber.
Besides exercise, a huge perk of the game is meeting new people in a city that’s notorious for being cliquey to the point of being unfriendly to newcomers.
Yes, Paras considers his time spent catching Pokémon to be exercise, but he doesn’t see it as a replacement for his athletic endeavors. It’s motivation to make him more active and explore parts of the city he’s never seen.
Occasionally, he remembers to look up and enjoy the sights of actual reality.
“It’s given me an excuse to go travel,” he said. “I never expected it to be this good.”