Gamification of physical activity: Beat the Street and Pokémon Go

Katherine Knight at NESTA: “Since launching in the US on 6 July, Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon with millions of downloads and more active users than Twitter. The game has been attributed with improving mental health, establishing augmented reality as mainstream and boosting traffic to local businesses.

Pokémon Go has also caused a massive spike in physical activity similar to that seen following New Year’s Resolutions. While the game’s main intention was not to transform the health of its players, it has clearly demonstrated the powerful potential of gamification as a means to get people active.

Gamified design has already been recognised by leading organisations in transport, nature, and the voluntary sector as a way to engage new audiences and change behaviour, but only recently have we come to understand how gamification can be used to dramatically increase physical activity and improve public health.

Changing habitual behaviours such as inactivity or driving to school and work has proven difficult via traditional health initiatives. Gamification provides new opportunities move people towards a more active lifestyle by providing positive incentives and rewards for players who get moving. In the case of Pokémon GO, the incentive to catch and collect as many Pokémon as possible is enough to nudge players to go outside and get active.

Gamification offers advantages over other types of physical activity campaigns due to its ability to bypass the perceived barriers to becoming active. Gamified design can deliver health through stealth by encouraging people to play a fun, free game rather than take part in a fitness scheme.

The impact of gamifying health can be clearly seen in Intelligent Health’s Beat the Street initiative which transforms communities into playable cities. At the heart of Beat the Street is a six-week game where residents are encouraged to explore their local area by tapping cards and fobs against special sensors – Beat Boxes – distributed across their town. Players are rewarded with points, can create teams and earn prizes depending on how far they run, walk or cycle….(More)”.