COLUMN: Pokémon Go: it’s not just child’s play

Gaming apps for computers and mobile devices are commonplace, but few have the instant popularity of Pokémon Go

Gaming apps for computers and mobile devices are commonplace, but few have the instant popularity of Pokémon Go, a game released earlier this month for smart phones and other mobile devices.

Within the first two weeks of its release, the free augmented reality game app has been downloaded more than 30 million times.

The game was released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand on July 6 and in Canada on July 17.

Pokémon Go is based on the Japanese video game and trading card game of the same name, first developed in 1995. Pokémon featured myriad characters like Pikachu, Charmander and Bulbasaur, along with the tag line, “Gotta catch ‘em all.”

In the latest version, players use the app to search for digital monsters in their communities, stopping at various locations in their quests.

While some see it as a children’s game and a time-waster for adults, there is also a potential health benefit.

Unlike Candy Crush and other popular online games, Pokémon Go gets users moving around in their search of the mythological digital creatures.

This could help to counter some of the health effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles in Canada.

An international study from 2014 showed only 28 per cent of Canadian children walk to school regularly. According to the study, youths between the ages of 12 and 17 spend an average of 9.3 hours a day being sedentary. This includes time in front of the television, computers or other digital devices.

Nationwide, 25.4 per cent of Canadians are obese and another 36 per cent are overweight. In the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, the obesity rate is one in three, and several other provinces are approaching this rate.

Here in British Columbia, we have the distinction of being the fittest province in Canada, but even here, one in five are obese and another two out of five are overweight. These numbers are significant and disturbing.

Obesity in Canada, a report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released earlier this year, states that only 15 per cent of adults and four per cent of adolescents in Canada are getting adequate exercise.

It’s time to get serious about fitness.

Some are already using pedometers or activity trackers such as the Fitbit or the Apple Watch to track their steps and activity levels.

I’ve carried a pedometer on a daily basis since early in 2011, and I’ve found it helps to keep me walking or running. It’s useful, especially on those days when I’m spending most of my work hours in front of the computer.

However, for some people, these devices may seem like too much work or too much of a focus on numbers.

Pokémon Go wasn’t designed as a fitness app. It’s an online game, even though it could also have some health and fitness benefits.

Games such as this one are diversions, but there’s nothing wrong with a good diversion now and again.

I haven’t yet downloaded the Pokémon Go app, but I might have to do so, to try it for myself.

So if you see me running around Summerland, my smart phone in my hand, calling out, “Gotta catch ‘em all,” there’s no cause for alarm. I’m just enjoying a Pokémon Go break — and getting some exercise in the process.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.