But are we really mad about it?
We all know the Pokémon GO craze is getting everyone–kids and adults alike–outside at all hours of the day. Tracking down that evasive Onyx can send you walking for miles. Uphill. Both ways. We know the struggle.
But Pokémon GO is not the first Nintendo game to encourage players to get out of the house. The company has been doing it for years, sending enough kids running around outside to make Michelle Obama rage quit.
Nintendo first started sneaking their active lifestyle onto us in 1998 with the release of the virtual pet toy Pokémon Pikachu, or Pocket Pikachu in Japan. This toy looks similar to a Tamagotchi and has a similar concept—keep a virtual pet alive—but instead of feeding and playing with the virtual pet, you keep Pikachu alive and happy by taking steps. Steps are rewarded with watts, a currency used to buy Pikachu presents. You can interact with Pikachu in a variety of ways, the variety growing when you take more steps and make the beloved Pokémon happier. That’s right—Nintendo gave kids a pedometer and made them excited about using it.
A similar device was released with Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver in 2009—the PokéWalker. Like the Pokémon Pikachu, your goal is to keep a virtual Pokémon alive and happy by taking steps. However, with the PokéWalker, you can download a Pokémon you caught on HeartGold or SoulSilver onto the device instead of just sticking with the one you the game gave you. You can also level up your Pokémon, catch new Pokémon, find game items, and unlock routes on which to find these things on the PokéWalker. The variety of Pokémon activities is even broader with the PokéWalker, but the base concept remains the same—get kids active while playing video games.
A couple years later in 2011, Nintendo released the Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming system, equipped with many new features, one called StreetPass. This feature allows enabled 3DS’s in close proximity to each other to connect and exchange data. The data exchanged between systems depends on the game in the 3DS; in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, players who connect with each other are able to view the house the other player has designed and obtain exclusive items in a special area of the game. In addition to SteetPass game features, an app built in to every 3DS, StreetPass Mii Plaza, allows players to let their customized Miis visit other players’ plazas and vice versa. This new feature, yet again, encourages players to get out of their comfort zone and—at least passively—interact with other people.
And now we are in the era of Pokémon GO, a mobile app game you can see being played in hordes of people all over cities. Players walk miles to find their favorite Pokémon, hatch those exciting 10 kilometer eggs, and collect items from as many Pokéstops as possible. Players have been so devoted to Pokémon GO that some have actually been injured and broken laws while playing. Nintendo has since added many disclaimers to the game to remind players to not play while driving, not trespass, and be aware of their surroundings in general; no one wants to walk into traffic, even when in pursuit of that last Bulbasaur you need to evolve it.
We joke about Nintendo “tricking” us into going outside, but in all seriousness, it’s a great thing they’re doing. Video games are notorious for keeping people couch-locked staring at screens and missing out on exercise and social interaction. Adding game features that encourage players to go outside, get active, and connect with others is beneficial to many, especially those dealing with depression and social anxiety.
So what we really want to say to Nintendo is “thank you”. Please continue to produce entertaining games with refreshing life benefits. Keep doing your thing.