• By Jeff Olsen

Technology That Has Gamers Off The Couch

July 14, 2016

people walking on a sidewalk, some on their phones
While an invitation to take a walk might have fallen on deaf ears earlier this summer, these days, millions of people are on their feet – all thanks to a video game.

Pokémon Go is a mobile game where players catch and train Pokémon creatures. The application requires gamers to explore their surroundings – local parks, malls and other public places – to find characters. Players also can hatch Pokémon eggs by simply walking with their smartphone.

“This is a very, very exciting space," says Dr. James Levine, Mayo Clinic obesity solutions expert and author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. "All of a sudden, we have people who would have been sitting on their bottoms for an evening getting up and moving around their cities."

And, he says, the movement might not end with the game. Dr. Levine believes active gaming could inspire other activities after a player's brain "clicks on to how pleasurable moving actually is."

"You start with the game, and, from that, somebody says, 'Hey, do you want to meet on Sunday for a ball game?' You wouldn’t have said yes, but now you do," Dr. Levine explains. "For some, the idea of an active gaming environment could literally be the health trigger – the health opportunity of their life."

One of the most popular features of Pokémon Go is its use of augmented reality – an enhanced version of reality created when images are superimposed over a real scene being viewed through a device.

Pokeman game image with Gonda building in background

“It immerses you into an environment,” says Dr. Amine Issa, a human physiology researcher at Mayo Clinic. "It lets the imagination impress itself on the world."

In the case of Pokémon Go, users see the game's characters within the phone's camera display. Dr. Issa, a world-class gamer himself, expects this use of augmented reality technology will continue to grow, providing more opportunities for players to get up and move through a game and their community.

"You used to have to sit like this on a computer," says Dr. Issa, imitating the posture of a person playing a traditional video game. "It's not the best for your health. But, as that barrier gets taken away, we'll see more clever ways to make playing games healthy.”

Journalists: Sound bites with Drs. Levine and Issa are in the downloads.
Read transcript of sound bites.

And, beyond the physical benefits, Dr. Issa says these cutting-edge games continue to promote communication and critical-thinking skills in young players.

"It starts to force them to work together, to ask questions, to communicate," he explains. "So, it creates these little ecosystems, where kids learn, that mirror real life."

Editor's Note: Accidents have reportedly happened while people are engaged in active gaming, so be aware of surroundings to avoid health hazards. 

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