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Gotta catch some Zs! The new Pokémon Sleep plans to gamify bedtime

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

There is by now a vast ecosystem of media related to Pokemon. There are movies, TV shows, trading cards, video games...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Pikachu) Pika pi (ph). Pikachu. Pikachu.

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And nestled in there is a small portfolio of what might be called lifestyle-related games. You have Pokemon GO, which encourages you to go outside and catch Pokemon and maybe do some walking in the process. There's also Pokemon Smile, meant to incentivize kids and probably a few adults to brush their teeth. And this week, we got a trailer and a promise that, in July, we will get Pokemon Sleep.

MICHAEL MCWHERTOR: The original pitch was they want Pokemon players to look forward to waking up every morning using Pokemon Sleep.

ESTRIN: That's Michael McWhertor, a video game writer for Polygon. He's been following Pokemon Sleep since it was initially announced in 2019. He describes the game as part virtual pet, part sleep tracking device.

MCWHERTOR: So there is a component of Pokemon Sleep that you play while you're awake, and it's caring for and feeding a Pokemon called Snorlax.

DETROW: And if there isn't a stuffed Snorlax in your house like there is in mine, it is a big bear-like creature best known, if you can't guess from the name...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POKEMON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Snorlax, snoring).

DETROW: ...For snoozing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POKEMON")

ERIC STUART: (As Brock) It's a Snorlax.

VERONICA TAYLOR: (As Ash Ketchum) That's a Snorlax?

RACHAEL LILLIS: (As Misty) All right.

DETROW: At night, the game monitor is gathering data on your sleep.

MCWHERTOR: This is all done by placing your phone or a dedicated Bluetooth device next to your pillow while you're sleeping. They say you get drowsy points by sleeping well and caring for your Snorlax.

DETROW: So getting more and better sleep will also help you get better in the game.

ESTRIN: Now, if you're thinking - what? A video game to help you sleep? Well, you wouldn't be the only skeptic.

JOHN TOROUS: The irony of using screens to get people to sleep when perhaps screens have been the cause of keeping people awake is not lost.

ESTRIN: Dr. John Torous is the director of digital psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he researches sleep apps. And he says there's lots of data supporting the benefits of sleep apps.

TOROUS: If you kind of said, Dr. Torous, which apps have the best level of evidence for helping people with mental health disorders? - it is often the apps that target sleep and insomnia.

DETROW: Now, unlike other sleep apps and games out there, Pokemon Sleep is more about incentivizing good sleep instead of recommending ways to improve sleep.

MCWHERTOR: This is like a kind of a fun, gamified way to look at that without it being scientific or medical or looking like some kind of recommended medical advice. I think they want to try and stay away from that.

DETROW: But big brands like Pokemon have a lot of power to get people to prioritize their own health, says John Torous.

TOROUS: For a certain part of the population, that gamification is going to drive engagement. And like any health routine or any health tracking, engagement is key, right?

DETROW: Basically, Torous surmises that the Pokemon GO crowd may become the Pokemon GO to sleep crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASON PAIGE SONG, "POKEMON THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.