IU experts and public safety officer give their takeaway on the Pokémon Go phenomenon


Players dip their toes in the Showalter Fountain as they play Pokémon Go. Photo by Thom Atkinson.

Although you might not know exactly what a Pokémon is, by now most people have heard of the wildly popular Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that exploded on the scene early this month.

Throughout the country, people of all ages are hitting the streets, cellphones in hand, attempting to catch virtual creatures known as Pokémon. With the game’s popularity has come a number of stories (some true, some internet tales) highlighting both the instantaneous success of the game and how far people are willing to go to catch a Pikachu or Clefairy.

Health and Vitality reached out to a few Indiana University Bloomington experts and public safety officer for their takeaway, and tips, on the world’s latest mobile phenomenon.

Take advantage of getting outside

jeanne johnston

Jeanne Johnston

While buzz surrounding a new technology or video game is not unique – remember Draw Something or Words With Friends? – Pokémon Go is unique in its ability to bring players outside. The game uses real-world locations in search of hundreds of species of Pokémon.

Jeanne Johnston, clinical associate professor of physical activity in the Department of Kinesiology at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, has spent her career studying the utilization of games and technology to promote physical activity.

“I am a firm believer in utilizing games and technology to influence physical activity,” she said. “Technology, and games to a lesser degree, are ubiquitous in our society now. Although it can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, it has also provided us with a plethora of opportunities to utilize technology to positively influence health.”

Because Pokémon Go has a strong appeal among people of all ages, and for people to play in groups, it has also presented an opportunity for parents to play the game with their children. Studies have shown, Johnston said, that children are more active if their parents are active. The game, she said, could present an opportunity for families to get moving together.

Because fads are exactly that — fads — Johnston recommends using the game as a stepping stone to behavioral changes. Use the game as a reason to get moving, but find other activities, involving technology or not, that present a fun opportunity to be active.

“It is fun to play the game, and it may get people moving,” she said. “Hopefully this will make them feel better and they can look for activities outside of the game.”

Stay safe

andy stephenson

Capt. Andy Stephenson

One of the biggest topics of concern regarding Pokémon Go is safety. And with stories about people falling off a cliff or being targeted by robbers, it’s important for players to be aware of their surroundings.

Although the IU Police Department Bloomington has not had any calls related to the game, Capt. Andy Stephenson said they have noticed people playing it.

“We’ve seen a lot more people walking around campus, particularly in the evening and overnight hours,” he said.

When it comes to staying safe, IUPD encourages players to walk in groups and be mindful of where they are. Avoid dark areas, private property and businesses/buildings that are closed.

Just like any situation where cellphones can prove a distraction, Stephenson said people need to take time to glance away from their phones. That means paying attention where you are walking, especially when crossing the street.

“It’s basically common-sense stuff,” Stephenson said. “Pay attention to your surroundings, walk in groups, stay off private property, and don’t play and drive.”

Take it all in stride

nicole martins

Nicole Martins

Another potential concern for some people, particularly parents, is how much time to allow your child to play such a game and how to monitor their activity.

Nicole Martins, assistant professor of telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, said when a new technology emerges, it is common for people, particularly parents, to have concerns.

“Every time something new comes out, parents’ first reaction is often fearful,” Martins said. “The assumption is it is probably bad. Our reactions to new technology have been the same over the last 50 years, no matter what the technology is.”

Martins recommend parents take advantage of the game to spend time with their children. And just like with any other technology, be aware of how, and how often, their children are using it.

“Have fun with it,” she said. “Research shows media can be used to have bonding family experiences. “If you and your kids are having a great afternoon playing Pokémon and enjoying each other’s company for two hours, am I going to say stop, you’ve met your recommended screen limit? No. But if they are doing it by themselves and spending long hours on it, then maybe you want to scale back a little.”

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