How Pokemon Go Turned Couch Potatoes Into Fitness Fanatics Without Them Even Realising It

The Conversation

Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm. Within days of its US release, its number of daily active users caught up with longstanding apps Twitter, Snapchat and Google Maps, and it became the biggest mobile game in US history. Since then, the game has been launched worldwide, creating a user base which spends more time playing Pokemon Go than the average Facebook user spends on site.

The app is supposedly generating upwards of $10m a day in revenue from the sale of PokeCoins, and is so engaging that people have walked into lakes and fallen off cliffs while playing.

This latest version of the Pokemon game has also been hailed for increasing physical activity in a group of individuals that have traditionally been seen as couch potatoes. Since 1980, worldwide obesity has doubled. Likewise, people are spending more time sitting down. Pokemon Go is undoubtedly a great tool for boosting physical and mental health, and could probably claim to be the most successful health app on the market without even trying to be. But why is it so motivating for some, and how can we harness this power to change other behaviours?

Mind the gap

Each of us possesses an intention-action gap (IAG). This is the discrepancy between our ideal self – what our values and intentions are – and our real self, that is what our actions actually are, what we actually achieve. The bigger the gap, the worse it is for us: if our intention is to spend 30 minutes a day being active and yet only do this maybe once a week, then we will be frustrated with ourselves and have poorer health outcomes.

The IAG concept has been studied extensively in the context of saving the planet. We might all say we want to behave responsibly and reduce climate change, but how many of us actually do things that are consistent with this, such as recycling, buying sustainable produce or reducing air miles? The theory applies equally to health behaviours too. So how do we close this gap?

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