The Unintended Positive Consequences of Pokémon Go

The Unintended Positive Consequences ofUsually we associate playing video games with being sedentary, but that’s not the case here. Since Pokémon Go was released last week (and became an instant hit), a number of people have observed that players seem to be getting more exercise than usual while playing the game. The game uses geolocation to plant characters in real world locations, where players can detect and capture them with the phone. Being successful at the game requires physically navigating the world.

I’m not playing Pokémon Go myself, so my first clue that the game has some unintended health consequences was a tweet from a friend:


Then came reports like this one, amalgamating all of the tweets from people with sore legs from hunting Pokémon. A search for Pokémon on Twitter yields all sorts of additional evidence that the game is getting people moving:

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This is a great example of how an intervention or product designed to do one thing (get people hooked on the game so they buy additional products, in this case) can have an unintended consequence (people become physically active so they can capture more Pokémon).

Of course, not all unintended consequences are positive like this one; I won’t be surprised if we start seeing negative side effects of Pokémon. People aren’t paying attention in the same way when they’re engaged with the game and could more easily get into an accident. There is (unfortunately reasonable) concern among black men that the behaviors associated with playing the game put them at risk. And there’s already been one report of people monitoring Pokémon Go activity to target people for robberies.

What’s exciting to me about Pokémon Go is its potential to get designers thinking differently about health and wellness interventions. What if the walking associated with Pokémon Go weren’t an unintended consequence, but the whole point?  Could we use this type of game interface to reduce the anxiety associated with new physical activity, to appeal to people who aren’t interested in fitness for its own sake, or to help distract people who are new to exercise from physical discomfort? I’d love to see this sort of concept become more mainstream, and the unintended consequences become intended ones.