All over south Louisiana, people are burning hundreds of calories and sweating up a storm in search of Pokemon.
Pokemon Go, released two weeks ago for smartphones, is a phenomenally popular game that uses GPS technology to send players out into the real world to find digital Pokemon characters.
Players are posting online about their sore legs, and many are claiming to walk more than they ever have before.
"There is data that show that when people are playing games, they sort of lose track of reality," said Amanda Staiano, a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. "They don’t mind sweating, and they’re not really focused on being physically active because they are so immersed in the game itself. That’s what makes this really promising."
Staiano has been lauded for her studies designed around the popular Nintendo Wii and XBox Kinect gaming systems that found dance and active movement games can help people lose weight. While she hasn't gotten to play Pokemon Go yet, she plans to check it out. It might lead to a new study.
"Anytime we see a chance for a product like this to promote physical activity, and then especially if we can design a research activity around it, I get excited," Staiano said.
The question is whether the "augmented reality" game, which has an estimated 21 million daily active users in the United States, can create long-term healthy behaviors.
"Are they sticky enough or attractive enough for people to play them over a longer duration?" Staiano said. "We know people can get short-term benefits from physical activity, but if they want to reduce their weight or improve their cardiovascular health, they need to be physically active for longer duration."
The game may also benefit people with mental disorders that prevent them from interacting with others, Staiano said. Some players are writing on Twitter and Facebook that the game encourages them to leave their houses and cooperate with other players on their team.
"Is this game sufficient to improve their psychological health and get them to interact more?" Staiano said. "I think it has a lot of features that could help and seeing some of these anecdotes is very promising."