In case you’re wondering why Pokémon is suddenly blowing up your Facebook and Twitter feeds, it all has to do with Pokémon Go, a new game that’s putting Nintendo’s once-ubiquitous cartoon creatures back in the spotlight — and getting users to be a lot more active. That’s right: It’s a video game that’s actually tricking everyone into exercising more (so sneaky, Pikachu!).
Pokémon Go is an interactive app that was released last week for iPhone and Android. As a user, you’re tasked with chasing down wild Pokémon in virtual gyms and outdoor spaces in Japan, New York City, and Paris and capturing them by throwing Poké Balls at them, according to the game’s website: You also have the option of turning on “augmented reality,” which means you’ll see whatever real-life scene your camera is pointed at — but Pokémon will be superimposed on the image. You’re literally chasing Pokémon around your neighborhood — and that’s what’s made it such a hit.
But here’s how it keeps you on your toes: In order to catch Pokémon, you physically have to run around. Hours can pass as you walk around your backyard, run through the park, or jog around your cul-de-sac, hunting down Squirtle and Jigglypuff (imagine explaining that when you bump into your neighbor).
And in case this sounds like something for kids, think again: The craze has adults everywhere fixated and running around in public like, well, crazy people. And bear in mind, in many places, the July temperatures are sky-high, but — judging by the game’s crashed servers — that doesn’t seem to be stopping any of the Pokémon-obsessed.
But is it really a bad thing if people are putting more steps on their FitBits in one week than they have since they got them?!
— PokemonGo™ (@CatchEmAlI) July 11, 2016
When they’re not frantically running around their neighborhoods, people can’t stop tweeting about the ways Pokémon Go is getting them into shape:
I caught 6 Pokemon on my run today so safe to say I had an efficient work out
— Jocelyn Butler (@jocelynbutter) July 8, 2016
My feet and legs are so sore from Pokemon go today. I got an hour of sleep but I took over a gym and gained 5 levels so it was pretty good
— Nalana (@nxlana) July 9, 2016
If you see me out running it’s not because I’m getting in shape for cross country, it’s because I’m playing Pokemon????????
— ✞¢αяℓιє вαямαи✞ (@carlie_barman) July 10, 2016
Did I really walk 13 km yesterday… These Pokemon are getting me in shape
— Andrew Campbell (@ZyoriTV) July 10, 2016
And it’s so much fun, it’s encouraging the normally sedentary among us to get out and get their blood pumping:
I ran for a good minute or two yesterday for Pokemon Go and my lower legs are sore. I could blame my shoes or accept how unfit I am.
— Michael Beebe (@pandabeebe) July 9, 2016
Also, apparently it’s a great group activity — whether or not you actually know the people in your group:
Wandering around a park in the middle of the other night with a bunch of strangers who are also playing #PokemonGO. Good times.
— Ashley Jenkins (@AshleyJ) July 11, 2016
Or even something to keep you entertained if you’re homebound:
— Dylan Jobe (@DylanJobe) July 7, 2016
Like any great exercise, Pokémon Go is not just burning calories and keeping users physically fit but also leading to more happiness and productivity, while helping people battle anxiety and other mental disorders, according to XOBenzo. As one afflicted Twitter user put it:
#PokemonGO is going to do wonders for my mental health, providing me with purpose and reason to go outside at last.
— Drew Dale (@drwdal) July 6, 2016
Of course, Pokémon Go isn’t the first video game to encourage exercise. Wii Fit revolutionized gaming when it debuted in 2007 with sports like boxing and yoga. But the important difference is that these Nintendo critters are not about exercise, per se. They’re about playing primarily, and the exercise just kind of sneaks up on you. And most workouts that are primarily fun become a healthy addiction. (Just be careful to chase Pokemon around in a secure area where you’re not likely to get hurt or run into pedestrians).
Of course, one other very important distinction? The Pokémon Go app is free. Which is leading some people to a very logical conclusion:
My legs are actually sore from all the walking I did yesterday playing pokemon go…who needs a gym membership
— Erik Puterio (@Erok_Sway) July 9, 2016