How Pokemon Go brings families together

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When Pokemon GO was released last year, kids weren't the only ones saying "gotta catch 'em all" - mums and dads also jumped on board the poke-bandwagon, in search of Pikachu.

Now, eight months later, the very first study of parents who played Pokemon GO with their families has been conducted - and the findings are good news for fans of the game. Parents reported that playing Pokemon resulted in increased family bonding, more exercise and spending more time outdoors, despite it being classified as "screen time".

As part of their study, researchers from The University of Washington surveyed and interviewed 87 parents who played Pokemon GO with their kids.

"Location-based augmented reality games are pretty different than sitting in front of a TV or playing a typical video game, so we were interested in the way kids and their parents were sharing those experiences together," said lead author, Kiley Sobel. "People still don't really know how to build tech that works well for families, so when this game came out of the blue and really caught on, we wanted to look at what its ingredients for success were."

When Sobel and her team observed people playing the game in their local area, they noticed an interesting phenomenon: kids - and their parents - were still chasing Pokemon, even after midnight.

"It was clearly way past everybody's bedtime," said co-author Jason Yip, adding that it was evident that parents were playing Pokemon as much as the kids. "We'd never seen that before with Minecraft or any Nintendo game, so we knew there was something going on here that was different."

So what was it?

Playing promoted family bonding time

Parents reported talking more than usual with their kids - both about and/or not about the game.

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One mum told interviewers, "I think it's just helping us find a common thing we can do together as a mum and a boy, and that's really awesome for me ... As a boy coming home from school, they don't tell you what they ate or ... what the teachers said, but now he's telling me this stuff so it's a good way to be communicating."

Parents and kids had a shared or intergenerational interest

While they played the game with their kids, mums and dads also reported playing the game by themselves - and enjoying telling their kids about their accomplishments.

"I love that this is a game we can play together as a family, and I often play a little during the day (alone) so we can talk about my progress at night. My daughter's enthusiasm is turning me into a gamer!" one parent said.

It encouraged exercise

Going on "poke-walks" provided families with motivation to get some outdoor exercise - many clocking up thousands more steps in a day.

"We go out for nightly long walks as a family… We stop when we see Pokémon and they help to catch them. They get really excited to go out for walks so I love taking them," one parent shared.

Almost all parents had safety concerns relating to their kids playing Pokemon, however, and set rules to protect their children. These included not playing unsupervised (for younger kids) or not playing at night (for older teens).Parents also reported being in control of the phone while walking - to avoid running into hazards - handing it over to their kids if a Pokemon was nearby. 

Along with safety concerns, parents also expressed some feelings of guilt, noting that Pokemon was still screen-time - despite it taking place outdoors. Mums and dad managed this guilt by enforcing time limits, asking for devices to be handed back when finished, and ensuring other responsibilities such as chores and homework were completed before being allowed to play.

Many reported feeling as though the screen time was "different", however,  due to "getting exercise, spending time outdoors, learning about the neighbourhood, spending time with family and friends, and socialising offline."

As the authors write of their findings:"The game reconciles some of the issues parents have with screen time and fits into the lives of families, including in their schedules, within various contexts, and during valued activities, while also not tying them to the living room."

So, if the novelty value hasn't worn off and you're still heading out regularly with your kids in search of Pokemon - keep it up.

You - and your family - are onto a winner.