Pokemon Go and Mental Health

PokemonThe newest craze to hit the digital sphere panders to the nostalgia of many. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that exists on an application on your phone. Its premise is ingenious – those with the app can walk around to ‘catch’ Pokemon in real-life places. All they have to do is point their phone camera at where the Pokemon is supposed to be, and it shows up on their screen, surrounded by the real world. Players use their touchscreens to throw Pokeballs and collect these critters. One of the great many features of the game is that it is built on a premise of walking. In order to run into Pokemon, hatch eggs, and find Pokemon gyms, players must get outside and wander around different neighborhoods. Soon after the game was released, many of those who downloaded it began to report an improvement in their mental health, catalyzed by Pokemon Go.

People have taken to platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to express how the game has made strides in easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have reported that it has given them the motivation to get outside on days during which they feel like doing nothing at all. Additionally, Pokemon Go has been proven to be a great way to interact with strangers. Those with mental health issues find themselves not only walking around outside, but also socializing, which is important when dealing with mental illness.

Experts say that the game is also beneficial for mental health in that it allows people to take a break without indulging in common negative forms of escape. For example, many people, after a long workday, tend to go home or to a bar and have a drink to relax. This can lead to a reliance on alcohol when encountering everyday stressors. Pokemon Go has given its players a way to get their mind off of stressors that simply involves getting some exercise. Instead of having a drink, users are prowling the streets for rare Pokemon and getting a much-needed dose of sunshine.

Success stories are still pouring in on social platforms. One user reported that the game gave her a reason to spend the week outside interacting with friends, which, to her, was ‘unreal.’  Another stated that the game worked better for him than any therapy or medication that had been prescribed. A third tweeted that Pokemon Go actually made him want to go outside and interact with people, after having not had that urge for years. These are only a few example of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of accounts of the game helping a player ease their psychological struggle, even if only for a little bit.

Pokemon Go has unintentionally become a therapeutic app for so many people, and it is just getting started. This really speaks to the power of technology in helping people deal with the negative symptoms of mental illness. I am excited to see what other augmented reality games appear in the future, and the effect they will have on mental health.  

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