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New research: That made Pokémon Go so popular

Published: 29 January 2018

The game Pokémon Go has been lauded for promoting children's physical activity.
Researchers at Luleå University of Technology have studied the components that made the game so popular. According to the result it is not a competition – but cooperation.

Pokémon Go became a global phenomenon in the summer of 2016. The game has been downloaded 800 million times, but the interest for playing it has now dropped.

The game's huge and rapid impact got researchers in Canada, Great Britain and Sweden interested. At Luleå University of Technology, researchers Anna-Karin Lindqvist, Stina Rutberg and Josef Hallberg have studied what made the game so popular, with the purpose of using the results for further studies of children's physical activity and gamification, including for a project about active school transportation.

The three researchers have collected data from focus groups consisting of children between the ages of 7-12 and their parents. All participants have played Pokémon Go for at least a few months.

– Our study shows that it is not the competition in the game that is the most appealing to the children and their parents. Cooperation – and contributing to the game together – conquers competition, says Stina Rutberg, Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy.

– It is easy to to come to a conclusion that competition is necessary in group-level activities to promote physical activity, but our results show that it is not the fact, adds Anna-Karin Lindqvist, Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy.

Reinforces the reality

Pokémon Go is a game that reinforces the reality, so-called augmented reality, with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, graphics and data.

– For those who want to promote physical activity, augmented reality is perfect since it gets people outdoor, says Anna-Karin Lindqvist.

In the study, the researchers saw that parents are not as likely to limit their children's screen time when a game encourages physical activity.

– There was very little that the participants in our study perceived as negative with the game, except for risks associated to traffic, says Anna-Karin Lindqvist.

With gamification, elements is used to get a desired outcome. Gamification can help increasing motivation in learning or to promote healthy behaviour, for example by children recieving a reward – like a badge, leaderboard or a new level – for the commitment they made to bring them back for more.

Josef Hallberg, Associate Professor of Mobile and Pervasive Computing, says it can be difficult to get exploratory features into digital games, but says that is something Pokémon Go has succeeded with. In a following study, the Luleå researchers will create a game that can be used in schools, with the purpose to increase physical activity in a learning environment.

– We have designed a game based on the findings from the study, like the importance of collaboration, exploration and discovery. We have built an analog prototype in the form of a puzzle and the idea is that we will later make a digital version. Everybody should be able to participate in the game, which involves solving tasks to collect pieces to a puzzle, says Josef Hallberg.

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