Pokémon Go and Fat People

Landon the Landwhale is not an official Pokemon, but I think he should be! Thanks to the always awesome Jeanette DePatie  who had him made for me.

If you are not familiar, the basic concept of Pokémon is that there are monsters everywhere, and they can be caught, trained, and then engage in battle with other Pokémon.  Its incarnations including a television show, card game, and video games.  Now, there is an augmented reality game called Pokémon Go. Basically the app allows players to use their phone’s GPS to find and capture monsters as they travel around. They can also go to designated Pokestops to get items and interact, and take their monsters to locations designated as “gyms” to train and battle other people’s Pokémon. (Correct me if I’m wrong Pokémon playing peeps!)


There is much talk about how the game encourages people to get out of the house and walk around (there are also concerns about accessibility and ableism related to this.) Of course we can’t have anything without dragging the whole “war on obesity” thing into it (this is why we can’t have nice things…)  which has led to countless memes about how Pokemon Go will “end obesity” or “prevent obesity.”  This is bad for a bunch of reasons.

First of all, it contributes to the stereotype that you can tell how active someone is by their size. Some fat people aren’t active, some are very active, and some are in between the extremes – just like thin people. Nobody is obligated to be “active” by any definition, and being “active” by any definition is not even close to a guarantee of having a thin body, and making wild guesses about people based on how they look is a shitty thing to do.

Using “preventing obesity” language creates a situation where you are trying to motivate some participants by telling them that they should participate so that they don’t become like other (larger bodied) participants which can be stigmatizing to larger bodied participants and make them them less likely to want to be involved. Not to mention that there’s no reason to believe that people who play the game won’t become fat.

Using “eradicating obesity” language suggests that other people playing the game should see fat players as problems that have not yet been solved, or as people who must not be playing the game “right” or “enough” since they are still fat.  This creates an environment that is less than welcoming.

Even if people do choose to play the game as a way to support their health (knowing that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances) the research shows that activity can have health benefits for people of all sizes.  If we mislead people to believe that it’s only improving their health if it makes them thinner, and they are only playing the game for health, then people will quit when they don’t lose weight, and they’ll lose the actual health benefits they might have gained.

Finally, if you hope that people will participate in a game, it may be helpful to note that people are less likely to participate in activities if they see them as punishment for their body size, rather than as something fun to do. So why don’t we cut the fatphobic bullshit and just invite people of all sizes to have fun playing the game.


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30 thoughts on “Pokémon Go and Fat People

  1. I have always hated the assumption that because i am big, I am not active. I will admit that there were times i was so big that moving around was hard, but i still did it. Right now, i am extremely active, and my weight hasn’t changed. So all this is just craziness. I am living proof of your message. 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. I am not playing Pokemon because I would become instantly addicted! However many people I know are embarrassed that they are playing Pokemon, especially people similar aged to me (59 on Wednesday). I suspect individuals are packaging playing Pokemon Go as a “healthy/weight/loss” thing to justify it. That said, it irritates me greatly when they do that, for all the reasons you cited, and because if they want to play Pokemon Go they should just do it!

  3. I am amused to note the twin media themes of POKEMON GO WILL ELIMINATE OBESITY and POKEMON GO WILL HELP PREDATORS SNATCH YOUR ROAMING CHILDREN. Pokemon Go saves us from fatties/Pokemon Go murders kids. It’s sure a dilemma! WHEE.

  4. I am ecstatic about the game. I don’t play. BUT this gets my 22 and 19 year old college boys (who resemble overgrown Great Dane puppies, behavior-wise) OFF my couches and OUT of my house for “walkies” and off my back about being fat!. YAY! AND I don’t have to give them money or drive them anyplace or lend them my car to make them do this. AND they’re having fun.

    1. …can I suggest that if your sons can’t refrain from commenting on your body, perhaps they don’t deserve to take money from you or demands ride?

  5. I completely agree. I am the fattest one at my workplace, but I’m the only one who rides a bike to work (everyone else drives). So my fatterness is nothing to do with lack of activity. I like to take the stairs, because I’m afraid of lifts, and so I tend to be fitter than my colleagues who are thinner than me. Not that there is anything wrong with being unfit – I am unfit, really, but I’m not as unfit as some of the people around me who are thin.

    I also have a lot of triggers related to words like “exercise” because, as you say, for a long time I felt having to exercise was a punishment for my being fat. I was given to understand (by my friends and family) that I had to keep exercising and not eat what I wanted until I lost weight. And I never did lose weight. Not really.

    I eventually accepted my size and felt beautiful the way I am.

    I felt and still feel that when someone says we should do something for exercise it is a punishment, but if someone asked me to play tennis, football, cricket, badminton, dancing, skipping, walking, anything, for fun, I would love to do it! (also, not really sporty, but like to play games) For fun. Exercise is a word I associate with being told I am inadequate the way I am. It tells me that I’m not good enough, not correct.

    I had to starve myself and work hard exercising every day, and if I didn’t lose weight it was presumed that it was because I was skimping on my exercises or cheating on my diet.

    I’m sorry for the rant. I opened up a door of resentment. But thank you for your post, I like what you said, and you are so right.

    1. Glad I’m not the only one who has such a strong aversion to the word “exercise.” Exercise is punishment for being fat Sports and games are fun. I haven’t played this game, but if anyone was to use it to motivate me to get thinner, that would guarantee that I wouldn’t want any part of it!

      1. Cinteresting that I have the opposite association–I hate, loathe, and detest the word “sport” because to me it means being chosen last or near-last to play a viciously competitive game whose rules I am only distantly familiar with, while people yell at me for being dumb. I hate trying to win, and the fact that I never knew what I was supposed to do when a ball was coming at me (except when playing line soccer, an even more punitive form of dodgeball) always left me in panic. Why not frigging explain the rules once in awhile for the kids who didn’t know them?

        Exercise is something I can do meditatively, alone, and do it for myself. I don’t like to have workout buddies–I want the alone time. For me exercise is something I do for myself, while “sport” is something done to me for my humiliation.

        1. I hear you on that, Ziggy Blum!

          I like games. LOVE games. But “sports” are something they forced on us, and graded us on, and yet never explained the rules!

          ONCE, in my entire school career, did a teacher explain (and test!) the rules for a sport. The rest of the time, we were just supposed to know, somehow.

          Drove me batty.

          Also, I was always chosen last, too.

          I have to admit, though, that being positioned in the “way-outfield” was a very zen P.E. period. I like baseball, because of it. Still didn’t know the rules, but put me in “way-outfield,” and I’m good to stay there for the whole hour.

          “Oh, the teams are swapping position? Does that affect me? No? Cool.”

          Of course, looking back, I see that the coach should never have allowed that, either.

  6. Everyone seems so shocked that Pokemon Go has gotten more people out of the house and walking around than any “obesity prevention” measures. Duh – because that’s not the focus. The focus is on playing the game and people don’t feel judged, or at least they didn’t. I’ve heard of it helping with agoraphobia and social anxiety, and it’s definitely helped my husband and I to have the motivation to go for a walk every evening (something we’ve wanted to do for a long time but always put off). I do think the ableism aspect is problematic and I’m hoping they come up with a solution.

    1. If they can just fix their program so that people with large private properties can opt out of having critters spawn on their properties, and thus stop the rampant trespassing, I’d agree, whole-heartedly.

      1. People have a very large range to “Catch” them from that means they don’t need to trespass. Lastly, the game doesn’t force people to ignore laws and privacy to begin with. More blame needs to go to the individuals since the game itself already gives you a very wide birth to work with. Personal responsibility here seems like obvious common sense.

        1. Personal responsibility does seem like obvious common sense.

          But you know what they say: Common sense is not so common.

          It’s really only an issue on very large lots of private property. And it won’t affect the vast majority of house-holders.

          However, there HAVE been reported incidents of people with large lots being very ticked off at being disturbed by trespassers looking for rares.

  7. Pokémon GO was produced by the same company that released a similar style game a few years back, called “Ingress.” Both games are location-based, augmented reality simulations. Ingress is something of a phone-based “capture the flag,” involving “Portals” that can be captured by one of two factions, Enlightened or Resistance. These portals are fixed locations, and the idea was that this game would offer motivation for being more active. This was one of the reasons my wife started playing Ingress, because she finds just walking to be a bit dull, and the game offers some diversion on the walk.

    I started playing Ingress so I wouldn’t be bored waiting for my wife to do game stuff while we were out walking.

    Ingress lacks the camera aspect that Pokémon GO incorporated, and all of Ingress’ gameplay is done within 40 meters of the Portals. Pokémon GO uses the same locations as the Ingress Portals, but Pokémon can appear anywhere (my wife and son both also play Pokémon GO).

    While walking is useful in playing both games, it is not absolutely necessary. Many Ingress portals are where they can be accessed from a parked car, and many others are in places that are ADA accessible – paved paths, inside malls, etc. Therefore, while the game CAN be useful in motivating people to be more active, it still comes down to the individual’s choice. Additionally, while the games can involve a decent amount of walking, they also can involve frequent stops to perform in-game actions. Both games incorporate a “lock-out” type effect that kicks in when the player is moving over a certain speed, presumably to help discourage people from trying to play while driving.

    What cracks me up is the same kind of mentality as the former Playboy model shaming the woman at the gym. The critics love to slam other people for sitting on their couches doing nothing, but when something like this gets them outside and moving, they figure out a reason to slam them for that as well. Just like the former model didn’t like seeing someone in “less than ideal shape” at the gym, so also some people just don’t like seeing a bunch of game geeks in “less than ideal shape” out on their walking paths.

    Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they don’t like seeing, and if people are out enjoying a game and being more active, more power to ’em.

  8. When I was a kid, the Nintendo Power Pad, which you couldn’t pry my fat ass away from but made said ass no less fat, was the Thing That Would Save Us From The Fatties. Then it was DDR, then it was the Wii, then it was the Kinect, and now it’s Pokemon Go.

    Gee, it’s almost like video games have incorporated and experimented with movement since there was such a thing as video games, but somehow there are still fat people.

    1. Dance has been around since drums were invented, and somehow, there are still fat people.

      Walking has been around even longer!

      It’s almost like humans come in different sizes, or something. Woooow. Mind. Blown.

      I love those games that get you moving, simply because they are fun. We shouldn’t have to care if it changes our bodies. We should be allowed to just enjoy the fun.

  9. Then, there’s also the fact that you can capture a Pokemon up to about 100 feet away (so I’m told. I don’t play), so plenty of people just drive around to do their hunting. No need to get out of the car, unless the Pokemon is too far from the road.

    Also, and this is a thing that really irks me: People are going onto other people’s private property, looking for creatures. You see, the game spawns the critters all over the map. If your private property has been designated as a “gym” or a “stop,” you can go to the website and opt out. But if you have a large, fenced-in yard, with a pool or a pond, or some other “attractive hazard” that can’t even be seen from the street, so you felt safe from being sued for some stranger growing on your property, well, now you’re not so safe. People will see on their phones that there’s a rare creature at X location, and if X location is behind locked gates and tall fences, they WILL GET THERE. Sometimes, they’ll disturb the property owner to ask permission, and sometimes, they won’t bother to ask. Sometimes they’ll ask, be turned down, and say, “But it’s RAAAARE!!!!” and jump the fence, anyway. And then, you have trespassers and the opportunity for them to get in trouble, and then sue you for having an attractive nuisance.

    And you can’t. opt. out. You can’t tell Pokemon Go to just not spawn creatures on your land. Cannot be done, as the game is currently set up.

    So, yeah, it’s nice that people are walking more, but this has opened up a big can of worms.

    1. I utterly despise the attractive nuisance law because it makes owners of homes responsible for the behavior of others, notably kids and parents.

      If you have a beautiful pool and the neighbor’s kid sneaks into your backyard to go for a swim, but ends up getting injured or killed, it is your fault for not putting up proper boundaries…on your own property. It is not the parents’ fault for failing to watch their child or the child’s fault, if they are old enough to know better.

      End rant. LOL!

      1. Citation? Because where I am from, as long as your pool abides by the local zoning laws (fenced in), you can not be held responsible for someone getting hurt while trespassing on your property. And, in fact, there are only seven out of the fifth states that use this. So it is the exception rather than the norm.

        1. It’s the exception that really, truly, annoys and frightens those living within its boundaries.

          I have witnessed teens going to dangerous lengths to get into a locked/fenced pool. Called the cops, and they just shrugged it off “Are they screaming in panic? Bleeding?”

          “No, they’re shrieking in delight at 3:00 in the morning, and keeping everyone awake.”

          “No blood, no foul. We’re too busy.”

          But had there been blood, the property owners would have been considered responsible. And since the fence was tall and pointy, with lots and lots of pokey things on top, designed specifically to prevent kids from scaling the fence, on danger of impalement (I shudder at the memory), it really was risky! The kids did it, anyway.

          I have to hand it to them: They were excellent climbers.

    2. Here’s the thing though, the game doesn’t actually tell you that a Pokémon is at a certain location. Once you’re close enough to it your game will alert you to it’s presence and you can catch it from where you are right then. It doesn’t matter if the Pokémon is on the other side of the fence from you, you can catch it without crossing the fence. So there is no reason for people to have to tresspass in order to catch a Pokémon. There is a list of “nearby Pokémon” but there no way of knowing how nearby or in what direction they are in. So of people are trespassing, that’s on them because they have no way of knowing that a “rare” Pokémon is far enough onto private property that they couldn’t catch it while still on public property without already having crossed onto private property. So it’s not the fault of the game, that “rare” Pokémon is just as likely to spawn outside of private property than it is to spawn inside.

      1. It depends on the size of the private property. People who have multi-acre lots have been complaining about trespassers at all hours, trying to get a “rare.”
        If the lot is big enough, you can’t get it from outside the fence. You know it’s that-way, and if you go around the block, you know it’s this-other-way, and people will triangulate.

        I think this speaks to their level of obsession, as well. They generally won’t trespass for a common critter. But they’ll go all out for a rare.

        1. There’s no way to know if you are getting closer to or father away from a Pokémon. That feature never worked and was recently removed from the game all together. The “nearby” list is completely unreliable. So people are *guessing* that there *might* be Pokémon on that piece of private property, and making a decision on their own to trespass in direct contradiction to the game telling them specifically *not to trespass* while it loads.
          I understand what you are saying, but the game really doesn’t give someone enough information to “know” that a Pokémon is in a certain out of range area. People who decide to trespass while playing this game would probably find some other reason to trespass if this game didn’t exist. It’s the fault of the people, and it’s really not fair to blame the game is all I’m saying.

          1. Oh, well, that’s nice to know. It looks like Pokemon is responding to the complaints, by taking away that feature.

            And you’re right – it is the fault of the people who do the trespassing.

            They actually tell you “Don’t trespass!”? That’s good to know, too.

            Hey, thanks, y’all, for all the information. Clearly, what I read about it, in the first place, was biased.

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