Lifestyle & Culture

Could a New Pokémon Game Convince Kids to Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

Pokémon Sleep will work with a new fitbit-style tracker and promises to ‘turn sleeping into entertainment’.

31.05.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash
Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

The makers of one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, Pokémon—home to Pikachu, Charmander, and other ‘pocket monsters’— have just announced a revolutionary new ‘sleep-based’ mobile game, due for release in 2020.

But Pokémon Sleep, as the game will be known, has got people torn in two. Is it the perfect push for sleep-deprived gaming addicts to get the rest they need? Or is it yet another time-waster that will further erode young people’s access to healthy and distraction-free sleep?

“In 2016, Pokémon GO turned the simple act of walking into entertainment, making the entire world into a game,” the company wrote in a tweet. “We’re about to do it again, Trainers — this time, for sleeping”.

Limited details exist about how the game will work, but Pokémon Chief Executive Tsunekazu Isihara explains that the concept of the game “is for players to look forward to waking up every morning”. Another gaming executive, quoted in the New York Times, says the game will “reward good sleep habits”.

A separately sold sleep tracker, Pokémon Go Plus+, will be placed under each user’s pillow and relay sleep information via Bluetooth to a connected smartphone.

The game builds on the success of Pokémon GO, a mobile application that became a worldwide phenomenon upon its release in 2016. 28.5 million users signed up, stalking the streets in search of Pokémon that appeared through augmented reality in public places ranging from parks to museum galleries. Unsurprisingly, with a legion of players moving through the world glued to their smartphones, people hurt themselves: One study credited the game with causing more than 100,000 traffic accidents. And, like most games, the more people played, the better they performed.

This is the big concern for Pokémon Sleep. Is it possible to combine addictive gaming technology with sleep—the ultimate act of inactivity? Sleep Consultant Katie Fischer seems to think not, telling the Guardian that “being aware of something happening while we’re sleeping doesn’t necessarily enable us to switch off”.

Technology’s overall negative impact on sleep is well-known. People are routinely advised to avoid the ‘blue light’ emitted by smartphones before sleeping, and some experts even recommend removing electrical devices from bedrooms altogether. Fischer added a concern that Pokemon Sleep seems to be “trying to get around the idea that gaming is bad for sleep”.

There are also issues about whether Pokémon’s sleep tracker will be sophisticated enough to distinguish between light sleep and time spent awake, lying still. This is something that current sleep-tracking already does well. Will consumers really be willing to spend money on additional hardware—just because it comes with a game?

And finally, will Pokémon Sleep be capable of holding attention—and therefore, in the best case scenario, healthy sleeping patterns—long-term? The NYT reports that after the boom of interest, Pokémon GO lost 80% of its active users within five months of launching.

Whatever the future prospects for the game, either as an entertainment tool or as a sleep aid, one thing is for sure: The creators know their audience. The official launch post ensured readers that “several Snorlax”—the name of the large, dozy Pokémon character—had been consulted in the making of the product.

Only a few more sleeps until we find out how successful the product will be.

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