Health | 05.25.2023

Why Older Women are Playing a Kid’s Game

Woman walking on a track to find new Pokemon in the game Pokemon GO.

By Franki Hanke

Every time I pull up the brightly colored interface of Niantic’s Pokémon GO game in public I feel a monetary stutter of, “Am I too old for this?” But, in actuality, this mobile game is dominated by a player base ranging from 20 to 50 years old! Many of them enjoy the game, and the subtle health benefits of Pokémon GO.

First mentioned in our recommendations for 6 Ways to Be Happier, Pokémon GO is a way to make your daily walk more enjoyable. 

What is Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO is a location-enabled mobile game. It’s also called an augmented reality game. It uses your real-world location to interact with in-game elements. Your goal, as a player, is to explore the area around you to catch Pokémon. You’ll walk in real-life spaces to trigger spawns for your avatar in the game world. Landmarks in-game include poke stops and gyms. These landmarks are generated from player submissions on real interest points. For example, many common poke stops are public art like murals or sculptures or community features like libraries or churches. To find in-game elements, you have to walk through the real world.

Whether you’re familiar with the lore of Pokémon’s massive franchise or not, this game can be enjoyable. Many players grew up playing Pokémon’s handheld Nintendo video games as adolescents, but even if you’re not a gamer already, this app game is easy to understand. 

At its core, it’s about collecting. Pokémon, taken from “pocket monsters” are little creatures that spawn into the game map. Your goal, as a player or “trainer” is to collect them into poké balls. After all, the motto of the franchise is “Gotta catch ‘em all!” 

There are other elements of the game that add some complexity like player-on-player battles and missions, but the bulk of the play is focused on finding, catching, and collecting Pokémon. 

Why would I want to play this? 

If you’re not a fan of video games normally, Pokémon GO might seem unappealing, but the game has 80 million players for a reason including a lot of players who consider themselves “older.” 

Forbes writer JV Chamary even called it the “World’s Most Important Game,” five years ago, but the benefits of the game haven’t changed! 

It’s free to play, so there’s no risk of trying it out. Who knows, Pokémon GO use could be the trigger your physical health needs! If you’re new to playing, I recommend finding a local or online group to connect with for support on confusing elements. Many communities already have existing Facebook, Discord, or other social media groups focused on playing the game locally face-to-face. 

Health Benefits of Pokémon GO

According to Niantic, the goal of Pokémon GO was to “encourage healthy outdoor exploration and social gameplay.” While players often have complaints about Niantic, the game has had a positive impact. 

Many players credit the game with improved mental health, successful weight loss, and increased physical activity from the extra push to go outside and walk around. 

“I started playing Pokémon GO in July 2017 as soon as I got my first smartphone. At the time, I was 57 and fairly sedentary,” said POGO user Tarana. “I was an adult when the whole Pokémon craze started so I was never into the cards and cartoons, that aspect didn’t interest me at first. It was the emphasis on walking that got me into POGO.” 

“Not only did POGO reward me for walking by hatching eggs, but I walked from Point A to Point B trying to find the Pokémon I needed! I lost two waist sizes in my pants over a two-year period.”

Many other, older Pokémon GO players have mirrored their sentiment on the Pokémon GO subreddit. Comments include, “Game has helped me drop 40 this year and recover after an accident” and “100 pounds less than when I started playing Pokémon GO!” 

The well-being effect of Pokémon GO has attracted researchers who surveyed 2,000 players to create consensus on its efficacy. They found a statistically significant positive effect on physical and social activity. Half the players surveyed reported health benefits of Pokémon GO including weight loss, decreased body fat, and gained muscle mass. 

Pokémon GO is not the first attempt to gamify healthy behaviors, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) cites several studies on motivating participants with game-like rewards systems, but Pokémon GO may be the most used on a public health scale. 

The quieter effect of Pokémon GO includes increased sun exposure as most gameplay occurs outside, improved familiarity and sense of belonging in a place, and easier social interaction which is helpful for cases of social anxiety or simply an icebreaker. It’s a good excuse to make a new connection with someone, as in-game group battles (raids) require player cooperation! 

What’s so good about the sun when you’re constantly harping about sunscreen? It’s part of the best morning routine (according to science)

Why does Pokémon GO work for weight loss? 

When most healthcare interventions feel clinical and boring, Pokémon GO offers an alternative for that feels more like tapping into your inner child rather than wrestling with getting older or obesity. 

The appeal of Pokémon GO is a focus outside of the walk itself. Walking, especially with the sole intent of losing weight, is boring, but when you have a goal that’s more entertaining, it’s motivating to go out. 

The gamified mechanics provide more frequent positive feedback than your scale can, so daily steps can become a secondary goal to a litany of other options: collect items from numerous nearby Pokestops, catch an elusive Pokémon, or hatch an egg. 

To start playing, download Pokémon GO on Apple or Android. For some bonus items when you start, use the referral code KTGK77JCJ

If Pokémon GO doesn’t appeal, other location-based games could offer a similar boost in motivation. 

Try Pikmin Bloom, another Niantic title, or Ingress for similar video games with a different style. Or, if you want a simplified experience, try Seek which uses an AI-enabled camera to identify your animal and plant observations as you explore. 

No matter what you do while doing it, getting outside for a walk is always a good idea.

Please remember your sunscreen though! The above content may contain affiliate links. When you click and shop, we receive a small commission to support our writers.

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