How an AR game is helping improve my lifestyle

I love Pokemon GO. It has huge design flaws, lacks depth and isn’t a particularly good game, but still I love it.

Before I get into depth, a year or so ago I was doing about 3000-4000 steps a day, which is poor but actually quite common. Previously I also used to play football but my regular game was cancelled. This meant I was putting on weight and was already looking pregnant. Having purchased a fitness tracker I was aiming to hit the recommended daily target a couple of times a week. Even when I wasn’t hitting my target, my average was up at least 1000 a day. Pretty feeble but an improvement.

When I got a new Android phone, moving away from Windows phone, I was able to play Pokemon GO. Despite the cold weather and rain, I started hitting my targets more regularly. Over the past couple of months I’ve been going even further with long walks on the weekend and also getting off the bus early from work. Lately I’ve been breaking 50,000 steps a week, which I feel is great given I was barely managing half of that a year ago.

So what has Pokemon GO done to influence my lifestyle change? Well for one you can catch more Pokemon. Whilst my flat is a pretty great spawn location, walking along by water means you’ll catch more water Pokemon and other areas such as parks have their own types as well. For the most part it is mainly the same as the flat, but there is some variation and I’ve caught a few new ones and rares on my journeys.

Tomorrow’s walk to the bus stop will see me hatch a (hopefully) great Pokemon.

In addition to catching different Pokemon, it is also how you hatch eggs. This allows you to get new and rare Pokemon but more often it gives you loads of XP, candies and stardust (useful in game currencies). I will always try to hatch a 5k egg during a long walk, plus a really long walk might hatch a 10k egg, which can contain really rare and useful Pokemon. It can also contain some that are, in my opinion, useless though…

Similarly walking lets me get more candy for my “buddy”. I’m now very close to evolving my Larvitar into a *very* powerful gym battler having walked several hundred kilometres with him.

Having a Pokemon GO Plus has been very useful as you don’t need to be holding your phone. I just keep pressing the little button when it vibrates, whilst enjoying my walk, and when I get home there will be up to hundred or so Pokemon to transfer. Okay, it might only catch 25% of the Pokemon I pass by but on a 2 hour walk in a city, you still get a great return.

What has made it more interesting is that I’ve started using the AR camera more. It is quite fun to take photos oh Pokemon in the real world, especially trying to get them in an amusing or “realistic” setting but it does expose the massive weakness in the AR aspect. The camera quality is surprisingly poor with the background always out of focus and fuzzy, plus the positioning of Pokemon bares no relation to the actual world so they are usually floating in the air. It can take a surprising amount of effort to get your camera positioned so the Pokemon is in a good spot, at which point it decides to move. Grrr! To make matters worse, after faffing about, the little sod might then decide to flee. This removes incentive to use AR and taking photos as you’re better just catching it.

It is a shame that a game that is based about being “in the real world” has such a weak AR implementation. The technical aspect of photo quality is something you’d hope they improve but I believe that the area needing more attention is the the method of taking photos and the opportunities to do so.

Currently you can only use AR before you capture a Pokemon. As mentioned, this runs the risk of you losing him. Once caught, your Pokemon are only useful for evolving and battling. They are removed from the AR aspect. Instead perhaps you should be able to take the photo AFTER you’ve caught him? This would give you the time to get positioning right and the game could even be flexible and let you move them around to take more interesting photos. Further to this, perhaps you could also take photos of your “buddy” Pokemon at any opportunity. Perhaps even any of your caught Pokemon? For example my Party Pikachu is wasted just in the Pokedex. Let me photo him! Or how about my Aerodactyl hovering over the city’s castle.

They could then introduce buttons to have them perform animations. I always thought Spore handled taking “photos” well and bringing some of that to Pokemon GO would allow player to create more interesting and fun photos. Rather than waiting a minute or so for the angry animation, let me click on it. You could even use candies to unlock new animations, which would be value for all those candies for Pokemon that aren’t useful in battles but people still like.

This would work all great in the general “theme” of Pokemon GO where you are to explore the real world, especially with modern players being so keen on sharing their gaming experiences (I see plenty Zelda screenshots on my Facebook feed).

Pokestops can be plaques, famous landmarks, odd bits of art and businesses.

Even without these features, I’m still enjoying taking all my photos. Whilst it doesn’t bring anything functional into the game, it adds a bit of charm and immersion. Catching Magicarp by the water is more fun when you see him flapping about by the side of the canal.

Sadly I’m still overweight and look pregnant, but even if the weight hasn’t shifted, I must surely be healthier for it and there have been other benefits as well. Pokestops and gyms are often landmarks. I’ve learnt little bits about Rabbie Burns. I’ve seen where Sean Connery was born. The Pokestops and gyms have made me more aware of just how many interesting things are in my city. Every day I’ve walked passed statues and plaques without a thought of who they are. Pokemon GO has me looking at them and sometimes remembering their names. I could probably now go on a tour of where famous scientists were born in the city!

By going on my walks I have visited new areas of the city, walked by lochs and along a small river. When it comes to looking at my next flat or job (whenever that may be!), I may know the area from my exploring having previously only known my way to work, the pub and the shops.

It is easy to analyse Pokemon GO’s design and limited features then write it off as a novelty and lightweight game but that is not entirely fair. Yes, it is lacking features and those present are have major design flaws but it is different to other games. It isn’t a way to kill time waiting for the bus or distract yourself, distract yourself on a train journey or test your skills. It is a new way to explore an area. It is a reason for tubby gits like me to get outside.

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