Pokémon Go has been capturing headlines across the globe. The smartphone game requires people to explore their local areas, searching for Pokémon via augmented reality (where the creatures are super-imposed onto the real world).
Gaming is often criticised for keeping people stuck indoors and contributing to the high levels of physical inactivity which plague our society. Could it be that Pokémon Go is actually doing the thing that gaming is so often charged with not doing - and getting people moving more?
Walking is a free, easy and fun way to improve our health. From lowering the risk of contracting heart disease, cancers including colon and breast cancer, depression and type 2 diabetes; walking can also aid weight loss and help reduce feelings of stress. If you search the #PokemonGo hashtag on Twitter, there are already lots of people talking about how great the game has been for them, since it was officially launched in the UK last week.
It's been credited by its users as helping with their mood, social anxiety, and depression; people are getting out and exploring their towns and cities; and parents aren't dragging their children out for walks because they want to go. One user, Josh Elliott, told the Guardian: "Pokémon Go has me addicted but not just to my phone, but to a good hour or two of walking around outside each day getting some of that fresh air and exercise I've heard so much about."
And it's not just us humans and our health that's benefitting, animal shelters have been recruiting Pokémon Go fans to become volunteer dog walkers.
Like anything though, it hasn't come without criticism. There are reports of thieves targeting users on the streets for their phones, calls for improved safeguards to ensure children use it safely and a story about two men falling off a cliff while playing. Concern around this is growing so much that authorities have started to release advice on the app; including concentrating when using the road.
It's important to remember that these incidents are small in number when compared to the number of people actually using the app; currently reported to have more users than Twitter and Tinder. And these stories aren't exclusive to walkers, a 28 year old in America crashed into a tree whilst playing and driving.
Regardless of this, we can't just focus on a small selection of people who look at their phones while walking. With more people walking, the air will be fresher, our roads and streets safer and our nation healthier.
Here at Living Streets, we think it's incredibly important that walking is made easier for people because it's good, not only for our health, but also for the environment and local economies.
Inactivity is making people unhealthy and unhappy; accounting for one in six deaths in the UK and costing the health service up to £10billion a year. One way or another, we need to find a way to introduce more activity into our lives - and maybe Pokémon Go is one way of doing that.
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