Pokemon GO just accomplished the impossible: It got my kid to voluntarily go for a 3 mile walk! More on that miracle in a moment, let’s first have a teachable moment on the free market versus failed government programs.
After nearly seven years of whining, cajoling and haranguing from the First Lady and her “Let’s Move” program, American kids are just as obese as ever. According to a study highlighted by the Daily Caller, kids have pretty much ignored Michelle Obama’s command to get up and move:
According to the new study, in 1999-2000 (NHANES’ surveys are conducted in 2-year cycles), 27.5 percent of all youth between 2 and 19 years old were considered overweight. That increased to 31.8 percent in the 2011-2012 study and 33.2 percent in the 2013-2014 cohort.
Apparently, the only tangible accomplishment of the First Lady’s program was to get kids to reject food that looked and tasted like cardboard. If those kids are making their own lunches at home, they might actually learn something more important than nutrition. They’ll learn to reject the notion that their food is to be delivered by a government bureaucrat (although, like Adam Sandler, I loved my cafeteria lunch lady at Farrand Elementry in Plymouth, MI.).
So if making viral videos dancing with Jimmy Fallon isn’t going to get kids off the sofa and exercising, what will?
We learned the answer to that question this weekend. The answer is capitalism.
Pokemon has been around for decades. Watch this video for a breakdown on how the GameBoy phenomenon has evolved:
My kids took it up around the “Fire Red” era and have had to get the newest version as soon as it was released. It’s a game that they loved and I never really got into. That all changed this weekend. Nintendo released Pokemon GO for Android and iPhone and the new “real life” context of the Pokemon legend has made it fun, addictive and a blockbuster success.
And, like their attempt to get kids off the sofa with the ill-fated “wii” gaming platform, Nintendo has figured out a way to get kids to do some cardio work while playing the game.
Pokemon GO is just insane right now. This is in Central Park. It's basically been HQ for Pokemon GO. pic.twitter.com/3v2VfEHzNA
— Jonathan (@IGIhosT) July 11, 2016
Here’s the deal: Unlike the traditional Pokemon games consigned to Game Boy, DS or 3DS, the Pokemon GO game links into the GPS and mapping abilties of your smartphone and puts Pokemon (yes, the plural is “Pokemon” not “Pokemen” or Pokemons”) in your world. Wherever you are.
So, they can show up anywhere…
— Grimstyles (@Grimstyles661) July 11, 2016
I mean anywhere…
And everybody is suddenly hooked.
In fact, in just five days, Pokemon GO has surpassed 7.5 million downloads and has more active users spending more time playing than people using Twitter or Tinder.
So where does the 3 mile walk come in?
Well, the Pokemon don’t just show up and start bugging you while you sit on your rear. Well, some of them do, but if you really want to collect them all, you need to go hunting for them. So, unlike the character you control in the old versions of the Pokemon franchise, you are the Pokemon trainer and instead of wandering through a pretend world on your hand-held gaming device, kids must wonder around the real world (and view it through their smartphone) so they can find Pokemon.
The game also maps out Poke-stops and all-important “gyms” every several blocks. These gyms host battles where you and your Pokemon team can dominate and reign supreme with your Pokemon. But, to compete at those gyms, you need to actually be there. And that means getting out of the house and going for a walk.
Now, apparently, some businesses have not fully embraced the fact that Nintendo has arbitrarily determined that they are a gym, thus attracting many people looking to battle and not, necessarily to purchase that businesses goods and services.
This will work itself out. There are already stories of restaurants using their gym status to attract customers:
— Sarah Becan (@SarahBecan) July 9, 2016
Politicians are already embracing Pokemon GO… which, I fear, will make it un-cool within days:
— Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) July 11, 2016
But as long as the US Marines are on board, the coolness factor will remain very high, indeed:
Get off the firing line, Pikachu! That's a safety violation! pic.twitter.com/WilmXFBHlf
— U.S. Marines (@USMC) July 11, 2016
So, back to our “teachable moment,” yes?
My 11-year-old is pretty average when it comes to exercise and activity. He isn’t sloth-like by any means, but he also really only wants to get up and get active if there is a specific task at hand. Otherwise, he’ll play Minecraft or some other game on his PC and I will sit back and dream of him inventing his generation’s Facebook due to my acceptance of his computer gaming habit.
So, imagine my surprise when he asked me if he could go outside for a walk yesterday.
“A walk?” I asked, trying not to sound like I suspect something nefarious.
“Yeah, I gotta walk 5 kilometers to hatch my egg,” he nonchalantly explained.
This is when a father’s life passes before his eyes and he begins to fear that “crazy Uncle Morris” has passed down some kind of genetic defect that has clearly skipped a generation and landed square on his own kid’s left temporal cortex.
Luckily, Christian saw the fear in my eyes and quickly explained that in Pokemon GO you get several Pokemon eggs that require an incubator. The incubation process only occurs when Pokemon GO registers a certain number of steps you take with the app active on your smartphone. And, no, you can’t cheat by driving. You have to walk.
So my son wanted to go walk 5K to hatch his egg.
A 3 mile walk has been inspired not by a government program. Not by congressional fiat. Not by Dear Leader’s command. Not by a PE teacher or even by the cajoling of a concerned parent. No. My son was inspired to walk 3 mile because he wanted to do it so he could complete a task in a game that he wanted to win.
It’s obvious what I did next, right?
Yup. I’m now Level 9, Team Valor and my top Pokemon is a Kingler with CP 500. I still don’t really know what all that means, but my son does and he explains it to me, often. And we went on a 5K walk together.
While we were walking, Christian asked, “so 5K is like 3 miles, right?” “Yeah,” I said. “3.1 miles to be exact.”
“Hmmm…. 5K is easier to remember than 3.1 miles, isn’t it?”
Oh good Lord… what if Pokemon GO actually succeeds in converting us to the metric system?