The Pokmon craze that captured the nations attention for part of last summer gets credit for making gamers a lot more physically active, according to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

But the effects, it seems, are only temporary and it remains to be seen if online gaming and augmented reality can be used to get consumers to exercise and become more active in the long term, says Katherine Howe, a Harvard Chan doctoral student and co-author of a new study that looked at the relationship between Pokmon and exercise.

We are only at the beginning of understanding how augmented reality gaming can potentially be beneficial to health, Howe says.

This past summer and fall Harvard researchers sought to determine if users of the Pokmon GO game, which users play on a mobile app on their smartphone, get more exercise than non-users. Its been suggested that the augmented reality game, which has been downloaded 500 million times worldwide since its launch in July 2016, may help promote and sustain greater physical activity because it encourages walking, Howe says.

Pokmon Go is a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS, Android, and Apple Watch devices, according to Wikipedia. The game was the result of a collaboration between Niantic and Nintendo, by way of the Pokmon, and was initially released in selected countries in July 2016. In the game, players use a mobile device’s GPS capability to locate, capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokmon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player, according to Wikipedia. The Pokmon Go has been downloaded more than 500 million times worldwide and las summer Pokmon Go was credited with popularizing location-based and augmented reality technology, promoting physical activity, and helping local businesses grow by way of increased foot traffic, says Wikipedia.


Harvard researchers looked at physical activity among a group of 1,182 young adults using an iPhone 6 series smartphone, which automatically records the number of steps taken while carrying the device. Researchers next compared the average number of daily steps taken for each of the four weeks prior to installation of the Pokemon Go game with the steps taken during each of the six weeks after installation among both gamers and non-gamers.

Before the game was installed on their phones, those users playing the game took, on average, 4,256 steps per day. Non-users took an average of 4,126 steps per day. In the first week after installation, Pokmon Go was linked with an average 955-step increase per day among players, while numbers of steps among non-players didnt change, say Harvard researchers.

But the additional steps among players gradually dropped off over the subsequent weeksand by the sixth week the increase was no longer significant, Howe says. The Harvard study suggest that the positive health impact of Pokmon Go is moderate and diminishes after six weeks of playing.

Playing the game may have social benefits that go beyond just increased physical activity, but Pokmon Go also may carry additional risk such as injuries and road traffic incidents that can occur when people walk and drive while looking at their phones to play the game.

The results of the Pokmon study means that digital gaming as part of an active health and wellness program need to be further explored, Howe says. They give people a reason to go outside, walk and socialize, she says. Imagine the potential of developing these games to not only increase physical activity but to also boost mental well-being, mood, cognitive abilities and social interaction for patients, school-aged children or seniors residing in nursing homes.