Pokémon Go, a smartphone-based game that encourages users to catch Pokémon creatures and visit various local destinations (PokéStops!) on the way, is taking the U.S. by storm since launching last week. Already, the app has been downloaded over 7.5 million times, according to estimates this past Monday.
The game works by providing a map that is linked to a phone’s GPS and camera. Players roam the streets trying to catch virtual monsters, which appear superimposed on actual locations.
On the way to catching them all, many users report that Pokémon Go encourages them to get to know their neighborhood and get out and walk. In New York and San Francisco, in the suburbs of Chicago and the beaches of New Zealand, people are showing up in droves to various local landmarks and walking around cities to play the game. As we know, physical activity can have enormous benefits for health. According to researchers, only 75 additional minutes of brisk exercise a week (like walking) can add nearly two years to your life. Some have gone so far as to hail Pokemon Go as “the greatest unintentional health fad ever,” transforming traditional gamers into urban explorers. (Other users even complain of leg soreness for the added Poke-activity.)
But the game can have negative health consequences as well. In places that aren’t very walkable, users might be tempted to drive everywhere. In addition to the potential for added air pollution, distracted drivers (or street crossers) can be a health hazard, so much so that the Department of Transportation in car-friendly Texas had to issue a PokéWarning:
Pokémon Go might be a passing fad, but applications that encourage people to exercise by heading outdoors are a big part of the future of preventive medicine. This is why we need to make sure that more people have access to safe, walkable communities. Learn more about the connection between health and the urban environment here: http://bit.ly/29J1qKr.
Photo: Dodou making the rounds at the Union Square Greenmarket/ RPA