Students search to understand the power of Pokémon Go

August 12, 2016 | Research, UToday, Health and Human Services
By Meghan Cunningham

Researchers at The University of Toledo are working to be among the first to provide data on why so many Pokémon Go players are so dedicated to catching ’em all.

In a survey of players of the incredibly popular Nintendo augmented reality smart phone game, doctoral students in UT’s Health Education Program are working to add some quantitative data about those who spend hours and walk miles playing the game.

Pokemon“You see the snapshots in the news about the good and the bad stories about individual people playing the game, but it is so new we don’t have data on the players,” said Victoria Wagner-Greene, the UT doctoral student who came up with the research project. “We’re working to be among the first to share who is playing this game and how it is impacting their lives.” 

To play Pokémon Go, players create an avatar that searches for and catches Pokémon characters out in the community using GPS on their mobile devices. PokeStops are landmarks where you can find characters and equipment, such as the Poké Balls you use to catch them, that are in popular public locations, including several on UT’s campus, making it an ideal location to survey a large number of players.

It was seeing students on campus from the University of Michigan who had traveled to Toledo specifically to catch more characters that inspired Wagner-Greene, who plays the game herself, to create this research project to learn more about that dedication.

Because she studies public health, of particular interest is how has playing Pokémon Go impacted the player’s physical activity. As players catch more characters and earn more steps, they move up through the levels of the game. Data on the safety concerns and social aspects of the game also will be gathered.

The survey asks players questions about how many hours per day they play the game, has it increased their physical activity, have they trespassed or run into people or objects while playing, do they play after dark, and have they played with strangers. It also gathers demographic information, such as age, race, gender, marital status and education level.

“Right now the news about this game is anecdotal. We are working to get the data to back it up to be a reference for what is going on with Pokémon,” said Dr. Joseph Dake, professor and chair of the UT School of Population Health, who also is a Pokémon player with his family often going on “Poke walks” as a group to catch characters together. “By quantifying with data, recommendations can be made on how to engage more young people in physical activity through the game or ways to ensure the safety of the players who, as the headlines have shown, get too focused in the game and ignore their surroundings.”

Wagner-Greene and her colleagues Amy Wotring and Tom Castor, also UT doctoral students in the Health Education Program, began surveying players last month at UT and other area hot spots, including parks. They hope to get more than 500 players completing the paper survey and an additional insight from 1,000 more players contacted through online forums.

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