The new social craze is the phone app Pokémon GO. This game lets players travel between the real world and the virtual world by using real locations to search for Pokémon to catch. Players step outside their homes to find interesting places such as historical landmarks, monuments, and public art installations. Users have been flocking to social media to share how playing this game has improved their mental health. This game has the added benefit to help a person not even think of it as helping their mood because it’s not targeted towards improving mental health. It’s simply a game.
When you get an egg in the game, usually at a Pokéstop, you can place it in an incubator to wait for it to hatch. But the time it takes to hatch is up to you. The first eggs you get require you to walk 2 km or 5 km for incubation to complete. For many players, partaking in this game involves a lot of walking, running, and cycling. This helps to elevate mood, boost coordination and balance, maintain a healthy body weight and even strengthen bones. What’s more, walking through scenic natural areas can provide further mental health benefits. Research from a Stanford University graduate found that walking through green areas actually had a significant effect on positivity.
There are stories on social media about Pokémon GO’s impact on players’ anxiety and depression. People have praised the game for getting them outside of the house and making it easier to interact with friends and strangers. The challenge with depression is having low motivation or energy to get up and stay active. Similarly, if a person is anxious they may be less likely to interact with other people in social situations. If a person struggling with mental illness is not accessing outpatient treatment then this game can have positive effects by adding exercise to their daily routine. Be careful not to mistake this information and believe that substituting Pokémon GO as an opportunity to treat a mood disorder solely with a game. If some day the game does not load, that can be a devastating setback for someone who does not have additional coping skills established to help them. Similarly, someone who already feels isolated won’t receive help because the game does not extend to some remote regions across the country. Pokémon GO could be used as an adjunct to psychotherapy and medications, but it should not be the sole treatment.
The game can be educational as well. Many videogame players tend to stay indoors and may be relatively unaware of significant locations in their local communities. Additionally, conventional online multiplayer games are still limited to purely digital interactions. Many of the Pokéstops that players visit are landmarks and historical markers. While players are out catching Pokémon there could be at least twenty other people in the same location. Many players report that while hunting for Pokémon they regularly notice, interact and make friends with others out playing the game. Pokémon GO gives gamers a great incentive to socialize and meet others who would usually recluse while playing video games. Again, most individuals believed that technology is driving people apart and making our society more anti-social. Pokémon GO brings people together and provides a break in the day from work or studying. It’s preventing some people from becoming bored and improving social connections.
This app demonstrated the unintentional benefits of gaming and produced a game that encourages healthy exercise. There are hundreds of app developers that have tried to develop mood-altering apps by encouraging people to track their mood or providing them with encouraging affirmations. Unfortunately, these apps rarely catch on, and few people continue using them past the first week, Research has long shown the benefits of simple exercise and socializing on improving mood. The developers behind Pokémon GO didn’t mean to create a mental health gaming app. The effects seem to be largely positive.
Grohol, J. (2016, July 11). Pokémon GO Reportedly Helping People’s Mental Health, Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/07/11/pokemon-go-reportedly-helping-peoples-mental-health-depression/
Saifi, R. (2016, July 26). Pokémon GO’s Mental Health Benefits Are Real. The Huffington Post. Retreived from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rahis-saifi/pokemon-gos-mental-health_b_11204184.html
Jonathan Torres, M.S.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern