Melissa Koenig

Exercise Your Body and Mind with Pokémon Go

I have a confession to make. I confess that I jumped on the Pokémon Go bandwagon—and I am still riding it.

My first introduction to Pokémon was when my son was little. He had a collection of cards, carefully curated in protective binders. He spent hours reading the cards and developing the perfect deck to defeat his father—not an insignificant feat.   For a child who was a “reluctant” reader these cards were one of the first times that he read for pleasure. He spent hours reading each card to learn the strengths and weaknesses of these unique creatures.

Jump ahead to the release of Pokémon Go, where these creatures are now out in the wild. This time the game tapped into a whole new “reluctant” audience. I personally know kids who struggled with exercise. In some cases these children had Fitbits or other fitness trackers, but getting those steps in was still a struggle. The tracker itself didn’t include enough motivation.

And then Pokémon Go was released. These same children who struggled to get 5,000 steps in a day were now doing over 10,000 easily. They voluntarily took dogs out on walks, offered to do more chores, and explored their neighborhoods.

While not as full-featured, the PokéStops often contain information about the landmark they are placed at. A friend of mine got their reluctant pre-teen child to sightsee around Nashville using Pokémon Go as a distractor. The condition for getting to play was that he had to read about each PokéStop he visited. Besides collecting PokéBalls and other goodies, he and his mom got a guided tour of the city. I would love to see this aspect of the game become more fully developed, perhaps pulling in some of the features of another of Niantic’s products Field Trip.

While the hype around Pokémon Go and the number of daily users are certainly in decline—Apptopia reports daily users now around 30 million down from a high of 45 million at the peak in July—30 million is still a big base.

So what is it about this game that continues to appeal to so many? For one, many of the users are young adults who have memories of collecting the cards as children. For them part of the fun is the adventure of capturing their favorite characters “in the wild”.

Additionally, the game continues to be very social. My son (now a young adult) and I share each night (or via text) which new Pokémon we have captured, evolved or hatched each day. These opportunities are a chance to share an experience even if you aren’t always in the same place.

I also have to admit that for me the app has motivated me to take those extra steps in ways my Fitbit never really did. I do find that I might choose walking over taking the bus or going the more scenic route if it means more steps with my Pokémon Buddy  or more steps toward hatching an egg.

As an educator we often talk about gamification of learning. While I don’t believe the answer to engaging our students is to always making learning a game, I believe there are some lessons that can be taken from the popularity of this app:

  • First, if you make a connection with your audience the engagement will be higher. Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go) previously released a similar style game called Ingress, but the market penetration wasn’t nearly as high because they didn’t have the emotional hook that Pokémon does. So as you develop content for your classes, what can you do to connect your content to your students —what hooks do you have to engage them on a deeper level?
  • Second, keep them guessing. While the Pokémon Go app hasn’t updated as quickly as many would like, their addition of bonuses, new features, and even the promise of new Pokémon encourages users to continue to log in if only to see what is new. As you look at your courses, ask yourself if there are ways that you can surprise your students—perhaps taking them down an unexpected path or releasing your content in a way that makes them want to login just to see what’s new.

Finally, I personally find that my walk to and from the office each day is more interesting and seems to go by faster when walking with my new friends Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Jigglypuff!

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