Pokemon Go throws wrench into research


pokemon-study

When professors Kevin Stanley and Scott Bell’s students planned a project this summer to use mobile phone data to study how much people were walking, they had no idea Pokemon Go was right around the corner.

Their four-week research project began on July 12. On July 17, the gaming craze that has players trek around their cities in search of mini monsters officially launched in Canada.

“We thought this might end up skewing our results if half of our participants are avid Pokemon players and they all decide to go for a walk twice a day along the river to catch Pokemon,” computer science Prof. Kevin Stanley said.

The initial study was designed to record the participants’ home neighbourhoods and use that to see whether where they live affects their active living overall — not just near their homes but throughout their day, geography Prof. Scott Bell said.

The study draws on prior research at the University of Saskatchewan that assigned a “neighbourhood active living potential” score to neighbourhoods and is aimed at seeing whether that score actually correlates to residents having a more active lifestyle.

Both Stanley and Bell said the nature of the study — the collection of data with the goal to study potential patterns — means they have the ability to study whatever patterns arise from the data, even if it means straying from the original goal of the research.

This isn’t the first time one of their research projects has been affected this way. In the fall of 2014, they launched a project with the goal of collecting movement data, using the same mobile phone monitoring software, in another health-related project. Then the Saskatoon Transit lockout happened.

“I think in an observational study like this, you sort of have to be optimistic going in,” Bell said. “It’s not like an experiment where you’re controlling all the variables. It’s the real world out there — you get what you get, and you go with it.”

In this case, Stanley said, they might end up with data about how people play Pokemon Go.

“That’s the neat thing about the technology we’re using: it let’s you do opportunistic experiments,” Stanley said. “If there’s data in there about Pokemon Go habits, then yeah, we’ll absolutely investigate Pokemon Go habits.”

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