pokemon_go_forth_profileInterventional Cardiologist, Christian Assad, MD Supports Use of Augmented Reality Games that Encourage Movement

For several years now, many companies have taken on the task of developing location-based games. These games use GPS to integrate surrounding landmarks and later transform them into a digital augmented reality (AR) world.

As physicians, we always recommend our patients to be as healthy as possible, and we emphasize the words “lifestyle modifications.” Lifestyle modifications aim to change an individual’s way of living so that they may become as healthy as possible with the minimum possible use of medications. With lifestyle modifications, we aim to reduce weight by encouraging a healthy diet and physical activity; therefore, directly impacting the course of diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol.

PokemonGO was created by Niantic Labs, a Google spinoff company which is also responsible for another augmented reality game called Ingress. The reason why this is relevant is that all those Pokestops and Pokegyms that you see are an importation of the database from Ingress. The Ingress portals that were created by people playing the game and taking pictures of locations are now the Pokestops and Pokegyms.

The reason why I am excited about PokemonGo and future AR games is that this game has arguably managed to tackle the “Lifestyle Modification realm” with far greater impact than the whole medical community placed together in the last 50 years.

We always tell our patients to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, eat healthy, lose weight, and avoid becoming obese. In most cases, it has little impact. The reason why this happens–let’s face it–is that only a lucky few really get pleasure from exercise. If exercise is not fun, it turns into a chore, and if it is a chore, we will not keep doing it. Nobody wants to come home from work just to get into another chore. For those of you that can do it, congratulations; for those of you who find it more challenging, AR games might have finally found a right formula.

I have tried multiple apps/games in the past that have the potential to modify our lifestyle. To name a few, they are Life is Crime, Life is Magic, Zombies Run, and Ingress, and more recently, I have been keeping my eye on one called Run an Empire; this last one looks great but has not been released.

Pokemon go forth!So what is the big deal about Pokemon GO?

The average video gamer age is now 38 years old. Yes, you heard it right. This means we grew up with Atari, Colecovision, Sega, Nintendo, Snes, Nintendo 64, Xbox, Playstation, and Steam.  Personally, I am currently exploring Virtual Reality as well with the Oculus Rift, HTCVive, Sony Morpheus.  In any case, the important thing here is that Niantic Labs partnered with Nintendo (who own a majority stake in Pokemon Co), and they have managed to create a game that is alluring to kids of all ages (including those in their 70s). I have been using the game since its beginning, and I’m already at level 21. I can tell you that I am extremely excited about it. Never in my life have I seen crowds of people walking around in groups like this. In the past, people chasing and trying to capture imaginary characters would have been considered crazy; now, this is our reality.

I have been going to different locations, witnessing an ever-growing group of people walking around. At first, I must admit that it feels awkward, to a certain extent, because you feel you like you might be judged and should maybe hold back on using it. My recommendation is: don’t. Never stop doing things because of what others might think of you. If you want to try it, GO AHEAD. The first time I used it in public was on South Padre Island. I went for a run and started capturing Pokemon and started noticing other people staring and walking with their phones. I started asking people if they were playing PokemonGo and they started laughing, “YES! Are you?!” Me: “Definitely!” This continued, and I have met many people in similar scenarios. I would like to emphasize a PAUSE here! Yes, people playing PokemonGO have been the target of assaults and other crimes; however, it is not a reason why not to use it. Just be careful and please use proper judgment.

I continued to play PokemonGo and started exploring other cities. In order to find more Pokestops and Pokegyms, it occurred to me to use the Ingress Intel site (previous Niantic game whose

database was imported) to find more locations. One key region I have is the Veteran’s War Memorial. The VWM has a total of five Pokestops and five Pokegyms, which has managed to create crowds that are growing on a daily basis. Not to mention that it is also likely increasing sales.

Initially, PokemonGo was popular with the younger generation, mostly teens, but this has changed dramatically in the last couple of weeks. Many videos have been uploaded to YouTube in which hundreds if not thousands of people are walking, running, and chasing Pokemons. What I have been witnessing lately is that parents of children are now taking their children for walks. Hey, be it what it may be, people are walking now, and that is a start!

An individual replied to the post I was interviewed for in TCTMD. As funny as that sounded to me at first, he’s right. My initial reaction was, “Well yeah, of course Pokémon fans are going to be into it.” But then I remembered that my 74-year-old dad made me install it on his phone a week ago, and he’s still super psyched about it. He grumbles when the servers go down, and before PokémonGo, he had no idea what Pokémon really was. Now we take long walks together every week, fully stocked with a 20,000 mAh power bank and two liters of water.

Due to the popularity of Pokémon, it is hard to believe that this hype will be weaning; on the contrary, I think it will continue to grow.

I can easily see how such games can be incorporated to promote healthier lives in places such as schools to nursing homes.

For those that think this is an unrealistic comment, I would just like you to know that C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is currently using the popular game to get kids out of their rooms so they can exercise and be social with other young patients. It is just about thinking outside the box, something that Medicine has been needing for many years now.

For those of you playing the game or wanting to get started with it, I will leave some pointers on how to level up your character quickly to catch ’em all: 1) Error #1 – People don’t walk as much as they should around Pokestops. I have managed to level up my character by walking at a fast pace and running in safe places while playing the game. It is a skill to be mastered and yes, accidents can happen, but so can they when you are mountain biking – although there are no mountains in Miami! I now can catch Pokémons while running with certain ease. If you are concerned about running out of Pokéballs, run near Pokéstops so you can replenish your equipment. 2) If you find a place where there are a lot of Pokéstops, like the VWM, use a lucky egg + incense to take advantage of all the lures that people place. This will surely help you level up quickly. Trust me, I’m already at level 21. 3) DO NOT waste stardust leveling up a character until you are at least to level 15. Save it, and when you are a higher level you will be able to capture higher tier Pokémon without having to waste the stardust.

In the near future, many locales will be holding events to help you level up your character and get healthy at the same time! See you then and happy hunting!

Never stop doing things because of what others might think of you. If you want to try it, GO AHEAD.


By Christian Assad, MD