I’ve never been someone who is majorly into fitness. Like a lot of other people, I keep thinking “yeah, I should go join a gym”, “maybe this week is the week I start eating healthier”, and a whole heap of other excuses that start off well, but I never stick with it. And I can guarantee that I’m not the only one either.
Then came Nintendo and Niantic Labs’ latest offering, Pokémon Go. Having been a Pokémon fan since before a lot of Pokémon fans were born, this excited me greatly – the idea of going out and catching Pokémon in the real world was cool and crazy! If you had have told me five years ago that an app like this would be available, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Of course with that came the realization from everyone that we’d have to step outside the comforts of our homes and go exploring, which means walking and physical exercise. Don’t mind the fact that even if you did leave the house all you’d be doing is making weird gestures on your phone and stopping every so often waving it around to find something that isn’t really there, but going out for fitness?! No thanks!
Well, ‘no thanks’ is what I would have said, until the second day of the app’s release here in Australia. With an afternoon to kill, I took a chance and thought I’d venture out into the wilderness, just like every 10-year-old does in the Pokémon games, to find rare monsters and capture them for my collection. It also happened to be close to lunchtime, and with a craving for a HSP (Halal Snack Pack for those of you playing at home) I set out on my adventure. What I expected was to catch a couple of Pokémon, get a decent walk in, and return home tired and never wanting to touch the app again; what I actually encountered was entirely different.
In starting the journey, I set out to visit a few Pokéstops on the way, maybe battle a gym, get lunch and then come home. Along the way I lost the gym battle (the 1HP glitch won’t allow me to win) and caught a few low-level Pokémon, eventually running out of balls. I proceeded to get my lunch (ended up with a kebab, what kind of kebab shop doesn’t make a HSP in this day and age?!) and walked a little further, then doubled back past a few more stops and another gym. Along the way I saw at least three other people on their phones and walking strange paths – a sign that the app had already taken off more than expected. Then I encountered a man walking his dogs, with his phone out. We said hello to each other, and as we passed, glanced at each other’s devices.
“Are you playing Pokémon Go as well?”
“Yeah! I’m on my way to challenge a gym that’s up here, it’s a low level one so I might win!”
“Oh, I’m only level four so I can’t challenge them yet!”
“Well good luck!”
He smiled and continued walking while I went to challenge the gym and get more Pokéstops. After another unsuccessful challenge and about 10 more stops, I returned home.At this point I realised that I’d been out of the house for 2.5 hours, and had walked over 10kms, just to play this game. I wasn’t exactly tired either – I was raring to go again. And it finally dawned on me – this app is more than an alternate reality game, it’s a life-changer. Every day since then, I’ve found myself wanting to go for a walk – not just to catch Pokémon, but because I LIKED going for a walk. I’ve met up with friends for coffee and brunch, and then we’ve gone walking around trying to find more imaginary beings. This is an app that hasn’t just reintegrated a fitness component into people’s lives, but has also got us talking to one another, face-to-face, for the first time in god knows how long. Strangers are meeting up to find Pokémon, to challenge gyms, to visit stops, and to just talk to each other.
Pokémon, the game that started a craze 20 years ago, has just ignited a new revolution, and one that could change things for the better.