The day Pokémon GO! was released in Canada, my Facebook home page was plastered with memes, jokes, and questions about the app. That night, my son posted on Facebook from work, “my co-worker has been driving me nuts running around the building trying to level up his Pokémon for the last half-hour.” Then the news stories came out pointing out some negatives about the app — how one player found a dead body; a memorial site was being visited to find a Pokémon, upsetting the family; a Toronto ferry dock that’s been overrun by Pokémon enthusiasts. More recently, inappropriate use of the app has lead to serious injuries and even death as players become negligent and even break laws in their pursuit of these irksome little critters. Initially, my reaction was a negative one. But then I realized that I couldn’t judge the app just based on a few news stories, and started to really analyze what my real issue was with the app.
I won’t go too much into the details of the app, but basically, the premise is that you need to locate, hatch, and train Pokémons out in the real world, in real time. To hatch eggs, you may be asked to walk 2 kilometers. To find the different kinds of Pokémon, you may have to do some creative exploring, such as seeking out water to find a water Pokémon.
First of all, as a Personal Trainer and an athlete, you should know that my personal belief is that humans were built for work. I’ve always had a mental visual of a hamster on a wheel when I look at a gym full of people running on treadmills, facing plate-glass windows on a beautiful day. Want to stay fit? Do stuff. Ride your bike to the store for small purchases. Make family time active time by going on bike rides, walks, and park outings, have picnics, fly a kite, play catch, or garden together. Don’t be afraid to use your body. If you think about it, every day presents us with normal opportunities to live an active and healthy lifestyle. That’s the key word – LIFESTYLE.
I’ve heard Pokémon GO! touted as a great way to get families out together, meet other families who are doing the same thing, and to get their kids (or themselves) active by going for walks or bike rides as they look for, hatch, and train these weird little creatures. These are, certainly, all positives. However, the biggest issue with Pokémon GO! as a means to getting active is that it’s just a tool (and if we’re really going to be honest, it’s just a game). If you want to get, and stay, active, you have to change your lifestyle. As all fitness fads go, people will eventually get tired of chasing Pokémon, especially in their immediate geographic region. They’ll have to branch out further to catch more of the digital critters. It will become less convenient, and more imposing. Remember all the Wii-based fitness games, such as the Wii-fit, Outdoor Adventure, Dance, Dance Revolution, and even the fitness bike for Wii? Even they are all largely a thing of the past. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s trying to take something that people enjoy doing (playing a game) and turning it into something they should be doing (making family time, getting active, interacting socially).
Are we really that bored as a society that an app like this is the only thing that can make you get up, go out, and be social and active? Do we really have to bow to the electronic monster to that extent? Talk about slave to the machine. Just as I won’t strap a pedometer on my kids to track their steps, I won’t teach my kids that gaming can be just as social and active as going to the beach, flying a kite, and playing with friends at the local park. As a society, we’re already too disconnected from the world around us. I’d much rather take my kids on a nature hike, let them look for animals, frogs, and birds, teach them about plants and mushrooms, or take the time to organize a fun outing or go on a camping trip. Not only does this encourage healthy personal development, but it’s far safer than trespassing or finding yourself in a less-than-friendly part of town.
Fitness should be a lifestyle, and social interaction should be natural. We, as parents, should make these things an integral aspect of raising our kids. Teaching them early on the values of family, friendships, and wellbeing is part of our job. We should be encouraging those things in a real world way, not handing that over to video games and apps. Leave the Pokémon where they are while you find some real friends and create lasting memories that your kids will really cherish. Life is too short to waste any more of it with our faces buried in our screens. So enjoy the app a little if you must, but don’t let it replace real family time or the longterm pursuit of health and wellbeing. Instead, get involved in your community’s activities, do some exploring for the sake of enjoying the world, and find other, more meaningful reasons to get active.