The Pokéstop nearest to my apartment is a little bit of a walk, maybe a quarter mile, and it’s located on flat ground after a decline. It’s also on dead-end road, one that is pitch-black at night (prime Pokémon hunting time), and feels eerily like it might be a dumping ground.
I don’t like walking there, and only in part because walking up the hill back to my apartment is draining. It got me to thinking about how I’m able-bodied (excluding some mild asthma) and privileged, yet I’m not advancing at the rate my roommates, both big walkers, are.
If I feel discouraged, how must disabled people feel? And what about my fellow out-of-shapers who want to go up against rival teams but find themselves daunted by the sheer amount of steps needed to so much as hatch an egg?
The requirement of physical mobility is not limited to Pokémon Go. Games like Ingress, Zombies, Run!, Spectrek, and even the popular outdoor treasure hunt Geocaching all necessitate pounding the pavement. I’ve been interested in Zombies, Run! (an immersive app that has users running from a zombie apocalypse) but never actually downloaded it, as my asthma precludes me from running. For those with mobility issues or other factors that similarly preclude them from physical activity, it’s a bummer. We often resign ourselves to being excluded from the fun.
But with a record number of Pokémon Go players and pop-culture saturation, it’s especially tough to be excluded this time around. I know quite a few disabled folks—and people who aren’t accustomed to walking the miles players are racking up—who don’t want to miss out. Until Pokémon Go increases its accessibility, physically going to gyms and stops appears to be a necessity. Currently, users with limited mobility are able to purchase Pokéballs as microtransactions (and then use them to catch approximately eight thousand Pidgeys, but that’s only half of the game). But spending cold hard cash is prohibitive for many, and that’s not even taking into account the manual dexterity and vision required to use the app.
I don’t want players of any mobility level to overexert themselves and end up suffering for what should be a fun pastime. No game is worth injury, and injury or just disappointment can take a toll on mental health. I’ve compiled a list of tips to remind players to take care of themselves.
- Take Breaks
I’ll say right off the bat that a lot of these tips are obvious, but I know from experience how frequently I don’t do the obvious. Taking breaks doesn’t just mean hanging out at a Pokéstop or gym for twenty minutes once you get there; it means stopping when you need to, whether that’s four steps in or four hundred. You need to monitor your level of discomfort. Sometimes you need to find the nearest bench or large rock and sit down until you can get up again.
And don’t forget to keep enough energy in reserve for the return journey. Getting to the Pokéstop is half the battle—the walk back is just as draining.
“Breaks” can mean as little to as much time as you need. Whether you need to rest for thirty seconds to thirty minutes, listen to your body and your level of discomfort. The first time you go Pokémon hunting or try Geocaching, you might underestimate how draining it is or how long you need to recover. It’s fine if you always need some days off to recuperate. It isn’t a race, as much as gamers frequently feel that urge to keep up and compete.
Every time you stop, remember to hydrate. I’m guilty of forgetting my water bottle when I leave my house, and it can lead to fatigue, heat exhaustion, and can basically ruin any outdoor fun faster than you can say “heat sensitive.” With massive heat waves this summer in the U.S., dehydration is a very real danger. If possible, bring a bottle and take some time to hang out in the shade and drink it. Your body will thank you.
Almost everyone I know who’s into Geocaching does it as a team, and I see people roving the streets in coordinated packs on the hunt for Pokémon every day. This is potentially useful; you might want to post on social media to see if friends (or friends-of-friends) are willing to buddy up. If transportation is an issue, see if you can get a ride. Or maybe you can be the driver and hang out in the car with the A/C on full blast as everyone else wanders around in the hot sun. Whatever your style, a group outing is automatically more fun and gives you the opportunity to pass some of the load onto someone else.
If you’re willing to part with your phone for an hour or so (an unthinkable prospect!), you could always send someone else out with it. I know I’m days away from handing my roommate my iPhone with strict instructions to guard it with his life—and to come back with Pokéballs. Seriously, don’t overlook the usefulness of other people.
- Talk to Your Doctor
This assumes you have a functional relationship with your healthcare professionals (or that you have them at all), so I realize this isn’t feasible for everyone. Personally, I know that if I went to my doctor and told her I was going to bump up my level of physical activity exponentially, she’d want to discuss reasonable expectations. If you’re dealing with a health condition, sudden exertion can be tricky.
You might need a new inhaler. You might need a knee brace. You might need to check in with a physical therapist to make sure your progress won’t be hindered by your desire to outrun zombies. You might need to talk about pain management. You might even get the all-clear to start walking miles! Whatever the outcome, it’s useful to check in before a new issue can develop.
- It’s Okay to Quit
If I can’t keep up with the mega-walkers and their impressive lineup of Pokémon, what’s the point of playing in the first place? If I send someone else out with my phone, it won’t really be the same as if I’d done it. This is an incredible amount of effort, and it might not be worth it.
This is 100% normal, 100% valid, and 100% understandable. I think most of us know that intellectually. But facing pain, frustration, and defeat can be deeply demoralizing. It’s easy to go from being frustrated with the game’s limitations to becoming frustrated with your limitations.
Deciding, despite all of your effort and accommodations, that using these sorts of apps is not worth it for you is valid. Feeling frustrated or embarrassed is also valid. Uninstalling the app might be the best thing for you, mentally and physically.
I know I’ll never play Zombies, Run! because of my asthma, and that’s a limitation I accept. Not every app is suitable for every person. What I don’t accept is that we can’t do better going forward. The technology we’re developing and perfecting can and should be accessible to disabled people. For example, voice-activated controls would be great for these augmented reality apps—and would be great for virtual reality too, which has its own set of issues related to mobility.
I hope that Pokémon Go adds accessibility for people currently unable to use the app. I hope that everyone who wants to play is ultimately able to—let’s not forget that people with low vision and limited dexterity can’t even take the app for a test drive. More than anything, I hope players take care of themselves.