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Pokémon Go gets people running

couple chasingA while ago we wrote about stealthy ways of introducing cardio exercise into your routine. Well here is an even more subversive and unlikely stealth tactic – Pokémon Go

Scores of people of all ages running around the streets, parks and shopping centres – has the message finally got through that exercise is good for you?

Unfortunately this is not the case, however, a craze that has hit these shores is achieving the same goal. People are walking, jogging, running and cycling in a bid to capture and zap little creatures known as Pokémon.

In an intriguing case of virtual world meets real world, the app Pokémon Go is attracting players by their thousands and everywhere you go, you will see people holding their phones to keep an eye out for where the next character may appear.

The screen shows the surrounding environment, but with Pokemon characters superimposed. Is that a Pokémon sitting on a bench on Parker’s Piece? Let’s run over and take a look. What about that one sitting on the fruit and veg stall on Cambridge Market? Quick, capture him before someone else does. Fun, addictive and good for you.

“I’ve reached 21,000 steps,” tweets one excited teenager. “Five miles – smashed”, boasts a man in his 30s. “Me and my wife have clocked up 60 miles between us over this weekend,” a slightly obsessive Pokémon fan tweets to his followers.

Despite this, Pokémon Go has its many detractors. “Adults shouldn’t play games” is one common criticism; “yet another computer game that stops people socialising”, is another. “It’s not real,” is a third.

Duncan Lindsey, writing for Metro UK puts the case forward for Pokémon Go and it is an argument that should be at least considered by the doubters.

1. Gaming is one of the biggest industries in the world and has been proven to help problem solving skills, decrease anxiety and develop motor skills.

2. Gathering together outside is also known as socialising. Just because parties have cans of beer instead of Pokémon, there isn’t a world of difference and the game is helping thousands to make friends over a common interest.

3. Yes, Pokémon isn’t real. Nor is Game Of Thrones, the latest cinematic release, your favourite best selling novel or TV soaps. But real life can be a depressing thing and everyone needs some escapism. One form of fiction isn’t more or less acceptable than another. 

There are valid criticisms. An over-zealous Pokémon Go-fan may stray onto land or premises that are off limits; there could be collisions between gamers as they pay attention to the screen not people ahead. And of course, it is addictive – which will always bring its own problems.

But let’s look beyond the criticisms. There are already a number of video games that can be used for working out – Dance Central, Zombies! Run. These all provide entertainment and fitness in an engaging and encouraging way. While these games are aimed at people who are seeking a way to exercise, Pokémon Go is doing something different – it is persuading people to exercise without them really knowing it. Wandering around a map catching Pokémon requires a lot of energy, especially when the Pokémon are spaced few and far between.

Who knows, a fun game could accidentally prove more effective at reducing obesity than the efforts of all the health ministers, doctors and fitness experts combined.