Off The Couch Gaming

Posted on July 31, 2016

Since 1989, Nintendo has been releasing hand held gaming devices designed to let people game wherever they want. This “off the couch” approach is nothing new: remember arcade rooms? Back in the day arcade rooms were one of the most popular sources of entertainment for many young people. This was a social activity, where you and your friends could spend time (and money) playing some of the best games on the market: from table top Pac-man to Whack-a-mole. Unfortunately, with the rise of in home entertainment systems like Sega and Nintendo the good ol’ arcade room died out. Dealing the final blow to this popular past time was the release of the Sony PlayStation in 1995 followed by the Xbox original in 2001, one by one the arcade room industry shut down across the globe.

Evil consoles put an end to this fashionable socialisation.

Evil consoles put an end to this fashionable socialisation.

During this period Nintendo had been releasing the Gameboy as an easy method for gamers to get together and play their favourite 8 – 16 bit games. Pokémon was one of the first games on the Gameboy system to actually reward players for leaving their homes with their gaming device, from peer to peer trading, to counting distance travelled, Pokémon on the Gameboy was getting people moving.

There was still more work to be done for the off the couch gaming revolution and what better place to look than our mobile phones. Smart phones have brought everything we could ever want in the digital world straight to our pockets; access to the internet, cameras, music, social media and even games. But what if your phone could do even more than all that? In 2014 Google asked that same question and with the help of their internal game devs (now known as Niantic) they released Ingress. Ingress is a massively multiplayer location based augmented reality game where you, the player, have to leave your house, yes go out into the sun, and visit real world places. When you look at these places through the game’s real world map you can interact with them through your mobile device. The idea is to take control of these locations for your chosen faction and defend them against enemy players. Ingress was a massive success and people all over the world are playing it. It’s especially great for tourists and back packers that want to visit public art, statues and monuments in a new city.

Ingress has you control and connect 'portals' in the world

Ingress has you control and connect ‘portals’ in the world

But, as popular as this game was, Niantic wasn’t done there. After teaming up with Pokémon and Nintendo they have released Pokémon GO! “Yes another article on the internet about Pokémon GO hahaha I tricked you all!!!” But seriously Pokémon go is currently one of the most popular phone games on the internet, getting more Downloads than Tinder. It has had a life changing effect on a lot of people for so many reasons. I personally walked over 20 kms in the first 2 days of this game being released. And it’s all to live out my childhood dream of being a Pokémon master! So not only does Pokémon GO encourage you to get outside a visit new places, it also pushes you to meet up with friends and rewards you for walking long distances. It’s a great way to get some extra exercise and spend time with others.

The way it works is you have a map on your screen that is based on real world Google Maps; points of interest are highlighted with a “Pokéstops” and you have to physically walk to these Pokéstops to collect items that will help you in your quest to “catch ‘em all”. On your way you will see Pokémon pop up on your map, when you click on them your phones camera will activate allowing you to see the Pokémon interacting in the real world through your phone. A lure is a device in the game that you can attach to a pokestop, once attached the lure with the lure Pokémon to that pokestop. The best thing about this is other players can see the lure and will flock to that pokestop to reap the benefits. This is a great way to make new friends and meet like-minded individuals while playing the game.

Although I strongly recommend this game for kids and adults of all ages it’s important to consider player safety. Since the game gets players out into the world, it is important that children are aware of the risk factors and have supervision whilst roaming the streets catching Pokémon. But this is a great opportunity for families to get together for a walk outside – kids have never been so keen to go out in public with their parents! The dangers of mobile distraction have also been widely discussed.

Pokemon Go uses augmented reality to overlay a digital game onto the real world via your camera phone.

Pokemon Go uses augmented reality to overlay a digital game onto the real world via your camera phone.

Overall these sorts of game show the diversity and inclusivity of the gaming industry: it’s times like this that make me feel proud to be a gamer. It absolutely amazes me that in a time where we can’t even elect a prime minister we can create a likeminded culture around one video game. The benefits of these sorts of games are ongoing, and games like these can be a god send for mental health or kids in hospital. This game has the ability to help people with chronic social anxiety and it’s a great motivation to get off the couch and maybe even take the dog for a walk.

If you haven’t already checked out Pokémon go give it a try; you never know, you might like the fresh air. The app is available on both the Apple iStore and the Google apps store and doesn’t use a lot of data, make sure you have GPS turned on and away you go.


See you in the Game Truck!

By Simon Mawson (Game Truck Coach)

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