Go Outside and Learn! Play to Learn with Augmented Reality Games

Going Virtual with Casual Games:  Strategies for Teaching during a Pandemic

David Seelow, PhD©

As I mentioned when speaking about Landlord Go, leaving the classroom, the dorm room, the bedroom, or the living room and moving outdoors remains a chief virtue of Augmented Reality (AR) games. In today’s sedentary, car centric environment (reinforced by most video games) simply walking around outdoors has major health benefits, both physical and mental. Also, there is no telling what kind of serendipitous learning might occur when you disembark from all too familiar confines and venture into the wider world of your neighborhood and beyond. One of my students makes this point perfectly, “ Zombies, Run and Pokemon Go are two excellent AR games with rich potential beyond escaping the stale indoors.

Pokemon Go

Understandably, Pokemon Go has a wide appeal and mass success. It shares the universe with Japan’s legendary Pokémon franchise (launched in 1996). A joint effort of Niantic, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, the game benefits for great promotional efforts and events on a regular basis. These events encourage new adventures, cooperation, and competition on both local- through the Gym Team Battles, and international scale, e.g. The Go Battle League There is even a Pokémon podcast- Go Cast. Just as I write this blog, they franchise announces a “First-ever Weather Week event,” for players looking to find Pokémon who love rainy and windy conditions (maybe on Ireland and England, lol?). However, the AR Pokémon has a wider reach than its sibling transmedia success stories. I cannot imagine myself watching a Pokémon feature film anymore that I would watch a Smurfs feature film, unless with a young child, but Pokémon Go remains a favorite go to game on my iphone whenever I travel. Everywhere you travel you have the potential to catch Pokémons and that, in turn, helps you explore other cities and neighborhood. As you explore you have the potential to meet people and make friends, to learn more. Exploring ‘The Great Outdoors’- Pokémon Go is a social experience. Furthermore, the game appeals across generations, thus allowing for intergenerational play.

Two different reviewers both discovered 14 ways to use Pokémon Go in an educational fashion (La Flanme and Theriault, 2016). How coincidental the number 14, but like Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” or William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, the actual number is arbitrary, an artificial limit on the limitless potential of a good game, a good poem, or good art more generally speaking.

The very nature of the many Pokémon creatures and their differing species and regions displays a rich imaginative universe ripe for students to explore. Collecting Pokémons becomes another valuable activity, and what about telling stories about your expedition? I always ask students to map their expeditions and share with the class.

Here are just a few ways this Augmented Reality game captures some of the great analog experiences from the past and bridges the digital and material worlds in a fruitful fashion.

  • Family Pokémon Experiences– like a family game night playing Trivial Pursuit or Uno, but outside like croquet in the backyard.
  • Collecting Pokémon’s– collecting Topps’ baseball cards- I learned much about collecting, valuation, and each player’s card that I collected displayed his statistics on back of the card, which encouraged me to develop both a love and deep knowledge of professional baseball. The Pokédex is Pokémon’s version of collecting Topps’ baseball cards.
  • Field Trips– visit a local Pokéstop location of note and investigate its history and significance. Gyms are also usually places of historical or cultural; interest.
  • Pokéstories– in my childhood telling ghost stories when camping or staying over at friend’s houses stimulated our creativity. Why not have students tell stories about their Pokémon quests?

An extraordinarily rich list of educational activities across many subject areas can be found in Lori Gracey’s blog, “Pokémon Go: What Education Should Be,” (2017) listed under Resources below. I encourage all teachers to explore these activities and suggestions. For sure, when an adult says go outside and play, go play Pokémon Go because playing is learning and learning outside is the kind of learning we need more of today.

Zombies, Run

Zombies, Run (Six to Start, 2012) melds AR with the exergame genre to promote outside physical exercise. Running, jogging and walking are good for most all people. For athletes, running is a necessity. However, like some vegetables, the appetite for running does not run high in most people. Yes, we have devices to monitor the benefits of running (calories burned, heart rate, blood pressure etc.), but we pretty much already know running has beneficial effects for our cardiovascular health and weight management. Let’s throw in stress relief and mental health. A jog in the fresh air can clear the mind on one hand or inspire the mind on the other hand. Pretty good, but rarely good enough to get most of us out the door and down the road. Zombies, Run helps us get over that motivational hurdle.

The game pushes you to run through an audio narration listened to through your headphones. Many of us listen to music when running, but that appears to be more a tedium distractor than a motivator. Why run listening to music when you can listen to music in a comfortable arm chair? But when Zombies are after you, running is a must. It is a matter of survival. The game taps into the cultural fascination with zombies and the many apocalyptic visions that pervade television, movies, and video games. Dropping the player into a zombie story as Runner 5, immerses us in a narrative as we run to survive, and along the way complete missions, and collect items to build the small outpost of Able Township. We can share our experiences through Zombie Link and monitor our health the same as we can through other monitoring devices.

We all know exercise is good for us, but if we do not have a routine establishing meaningful exercise is difficult. In Pokémon Go, hatching an egg requires a significant degree of walking. The game’s structure incentivizes the walk. Likewise, Zombies, Run incentivizes walking, jogging, and running. As the saying goes walk before you run and a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. The narrative can provide that first step just as might a doctor’s suggestion for a person with heart disease or obesity.

For students on an athletic team, Zombies Run, offers an excellent opportunity for coaches to run control and experiment groups using the game during practice or during the off season. For physical education classes, the game could be a valuable element in encouraging students to run. Although the game may not directly benefit the body any more than any other run for those who run, most reports from game users indicate the game provided motivation to continue running. If the game motivates regular running than it necessarily benefits a person more than just occasional running. Even communities can benefit by holding local versions of official Zombies 5k or 10K runs and use the game as a springboard for charity and fundraising.

In conclusion, let me turn to how Zombies, Run gives teachers of students from all ages as well as parents an opportunity to explore the value of physical fitness to healthy citizenship and character building. On March 30, 1962, almost 59 years ago to the day President John F. Kennedy spoke to the nation about the importance of physical fitness and the government’s pilot programs in many school districts. Just as with the space race Kennedy inspired people. We have continued to meet science and technology challenges but have failed on physical fitness. The country’s obesity rates including among children and adolescents is shocking. In his speech Kennedy specifically mentions his hope that we will not turn into a nation of spectators, but sadly that has largely been the case. Play Kennedy’s speech for a class in American History or Physical Education or during a college orientation. Challenge students to play Zombies, Run and a suite of other exergames and see if we cannot inspire students to move from coach potatoes to genuinely active citizens. By the way, Kennedy’s program required no gyms, no expensive machinery, no Peloton no Nordic Track- no, just you and your body. An analog experience that our digital age needs much more of. Of course the fitness test and some the expectations from that original program are not realistic or even necessarily helpful from a game based learning perspective, but the model can be modified in various ways to gamify different physical activities by keeping the challenge framework and dropping the test requirement. Moving students to move and learn that is the beauty of good AR games.

Up Next: Using a video game to experience the great outdoors, a positive paradox


Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Education Games by Eric Klopfer. MIT Press, 2008.

Dr. Klopfer is Director of MIT’s Scheller Teaching Education Program and the Education Arcade at MIT. This book provides an excellent overview of Augmented Reality games and how they can be used for education across disciplines and in collaboration with museums, science labs and more.  The Education Arcade also features TaleBlazer, an AR authoring tool for making mobile location based games.

Google Earth Creation Tools- contacts.google.com

The various tools with Google Earth allows students to create exciting geographical projects and tell stories about spaces and places including the neighborhoods or hunting maps drawn on Pokémon Go adventures.

There are many tutorials on how to use Google earth for teachers to explore. One comprehensive introduction is Google Earth Pro-A Complete Beginners Guide-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lGl1VZjtg4. Combing an AR game with these poweral geographical tools allows faculty to design any number of outdoor projects that deepen learning in a way the interior classroom cannot.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museumhttps://www.jfklibrary.org/learn

This library and museum at Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts has a rich archive of information about President Kennedy including his physical fitness program and The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. There are also lesson plans and virtual learning opportunities available through the library.

The Official Pokémon Website- https://www.pokemon.com/us/

A comprehensive guide to everything Pokémon including regional and international events, newsletters, a parent’s guide, various apps, and games.

POKEMON GO: WHAT EDUCATION SHOULD BE by Lori Gracey January 12, 2017

This blog for TCEA’s Tech Notes includes a wealth of practical resources for using Pokémon Go in an educational fashion across many disciplines and with many types of students including those with special needs.

TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) focuses on the use of educational technology. They have many resources, included self-paced courses and certifications for using educational technology in the classroom.

*** If you want consultation, or professional development help with online learning, course design, game-based learning, games in the classroom, comics in the classroom, film, or Language Arts/Literature contact me at: davidseelow@gmail.com.

Keep an eye out for the release of my new book Teaching in the Game-Based Classroom: Practical Strategies for Grades 6-12, to be published by Routledge’s Eye on Education series. You can pre-order here: https://www.routledge.com/Teaching-in-the-Game-Based-Classroom-Practical-Strategies-for-Grades-6-12/Seelow/p/book/9780367487492

Purchase or recommend to your library our book Lessons Drawn: Essays on the Pedagogy of Comics and Graphic Novels (McFarland, 2019), a practical guide to classroom teaching with new literary forms.

Works Cited

La Flamme, Art. “14 ways to bring Pokemon Go to school,” ISTE, July 20, 2016

https://www.iste.org/explore/Toolbox/14-ways-to-bring-Pokemon-Go-to-school. Website.

The LeanBerets , “JFK Physical Fitness Statement.” 30 March 1962, YouTube, 3 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0WmpszjnN8., from the Stan LeProtti Family Archive, retrieved 24 March 2021. Website.

Theriault, David. “14 REASONS WHY POKEMON GO IS THE FUTURE OF LEARNING,” IDEAFM. July 8, 2016, https://ideafm.org/2016/07/08/14-reasons-why-pokemon-go-is-the-future-of-learning/. Blog.

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