If you haven’t tried Pokémon Go, you’re already behind on the latest “fitness” app. If you look around your town, chances are you will see people of every age and demographic walking around aimlessly while staring at their phones.
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Most app games can be played anywhere, but Pokémon Go features augmented reality in which the user (trainer) must physically travel to designated locations to catch fictional creatures, receive rewards from specific landmarks (or Pokéstops) and battle members of other teams (red, blue, or yellow) at designated gyms. It’s essentially a global live scavenger hunt that uses your phone’s camera to display Pokémon in what seems like the real world.
The app also has several features that force you to actually get up and move—and it seems to be working.
Pokémon Go taps into your location settings, showing an avatar on a geographically correct road map, which even accurately depicts grassy areas and bodies of water, both of which tend to be hot spots for catching Pokémon. While you can technically hop in a car and drive from location to location, many hot spots and Pokéstops are off-road and require you to physically get out of your car and walk, run, skateboard or bike to each landmark. When arriving at a landmark, you can click on it on your screen, swipe the picture until it spins and receive items such as Poké Balls for catching Pokémon, potions for healing them, and eggs for hatching new ones. Instead of allowing you to sit at one Pokéstop and spin it for unlimited items, you must wait at least 5 minutes before spinning again. In the meantime, most users end up walking from location to location, catching Pokémon on the way. Each stop is often within walking distance, meaning it’s not far enough to go through the hassle of getting back in your car, but just close enough to encourage you to take the trip on your own. The game is turning walking into an addiction without its users even knowing it.
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A second feature that requires movement is tracking rare Pokémon. The game features a menu at the bottom right of your phone screen that indicates nearby Pokémon. The higher it is on the list, the closer you are to its location. Under each nearby Pokémon is a set of 1-3 footprints, with 1 being the closest and 3 being the farthest. To track a specific Pokémon on the list, you tap on the creature of your choice in the menu until there is a circle around it, then begin walking in one direction. If the Pokémon moves up the list as you walk, you are getting closer to your target. If the Pokémon moves down the list, you are getting farther away. Using this feature, you can readjust and keep walking until you find and catch what you are looking for. Tracking can average around 5-10 minutes of walking per Pokémon, depending how close you are when you start out. Just make sure you have enough Poké Balls handy or you may find yourself sprinting from the Pokémon’s location to the nearest Pokéstop and back just to make the catch.
Who would’ve thought interval training could be turned into a game?
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Probably the most direct translation to fitness within the game is egg hatching. After obtaining eggs from a Pokéstop, you must place the egg in an incubator and wait for it to hatch—but you must actually walk to hatch it. Each egg features a distance of 2, 5, or 10 kilometers, and you must actively cover the distance in order to hatch the egg. Why not just jump in your car and drive a 10k? The app syncs to your phone’s accelerometer and uses GPS to calculate speed, which seems to prevent it from counting distance if you travel on anything faster than a bike or a skateboard (it seems to calculate steps with rollerblades and scooters as well). With rarer Pokémon hatching from 5k and 10k eggs, Pokémon Go rewards you the more active you are.