The Pokemon Go autopsy: It got people outside


The Pokemon Go craze took hold of the world last July. Children in Sweden, parents in Bangkok, college students in Seattle. Everyone was intrigued and captivated by the location-based, augmented reality game played on a cell phone.

“There was something going on here that was different,” said Jason Yip, assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School. “We had never seen something like this before and it got us thinking.”

That thinking led to a research study, which has found that parents who regularly play Pokemon Go with their children spend more time outdoors, exercise more and have more family bonding time.

“We found a multi-generational appeal to Pokemon Go that definitely emerged when we talked to these families,” said Information School associate professor Jin Ha Lee.

What researchers also discovered is how Pokemon Go might alleviate parents’ worry about too much screen time. “Parents worry about screen media experiences displacing physical activity and time outdoors. But Pokemon Go specifically facilitates outdoor activity,” Yip said.

The UW researchers wanted to specifically investigate why families seemed to be so invested in the mobile device-based game. Other games like Candy Crush or Bejeweled attract players across the age spectrum. But they haven’t generated the kind of conversation, excitement and degree of buzz that Pokemon Go has. The game became popular unbelievably quickly, the study notes, with more than 500 million downloads in just two months.

The study was based on research obtained last July, when the game debuted, through October. It looked at the game's joint media engagement,  a term that refers to collaboration, shared experiences and meaningful connections that are made while playing, explained the study’s lead author Kiley Sobel, a UW doctoral student in Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE).

Those connections resulted in another upside of the game, the study found. Parents reported feeling more confident when talking to their kids because the game had now given them something in common.

The negatives to playing the game included a worry that children were too addicted to playing and some safety concerns. The game requires using your mobile device to locate virtual “Poké stops” in the real world, making it challenging for parents to reign in and control where children can play, which led to some parents refusing to let their children play the game at all.

The study also raised the question as to whether Pokemon Go could, in fact, be used for purposes other than for fun – such as luring people to a location so they could be robbed. Those sorts of ethical questions are being addressed in a follow-up study by the UW research team.

This series is made possible with support from Comcast. The views and opinions expressed in the media, articles, or comments on this article are those of the authors and do not reflect or represent the views and opinions held by Comcast.

Comcast Bright Ideas


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Praphanit Doowa

Praphanit Doowa

Praphanit (Prab) Doowa is a news intern at Crosscut and a junior at the University of Washington, pursuing Journalism as a major and Nutritional Sciences and Writing as minors. Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, she enjoys reporting on education, local news, health, science, and sports. After graduation, she intends to work as a communications consultant to help others become effective communicators, verbally and written.