Video game giant Nintendo recently collaborated with developers to create a mobile game called Pokémon Go. The app is an augmented reality role-playing game in which players use their smartphone camera and GPS to find small monsters hidden in locations that players must physically reach. Players capture monsters, train them, grow them, fight them, and gather experience points that unlock new game features and increase difficulty.
The game is one of the first augmented reality games to garner nearly 10 million users and is, therefore, a wonderful benchmark for how well reality-based gaming can affect the physical and mental health of its players. So far, Pokémon Go players are seeing improvements in health as the game only rewards those who step outside of the house to play. Pokémon Go delivers health benefits by encouraging movement and exercise and incentivizing players to get outside.
How Does Pokémon Go Affect Mental Health?
There must be a reason that the audience of Pokémon Go grew so quickly. It's likely that positive effects on mood and concentration are at the center of the game's success. Its reward system is consistent – every action that players perform is a step toward a loftier goal, including actual physical steps. This reward system in Pokémon Go delivers many mental health benefits to players in a widely accessible manner.
It's Socially Engaging
At the heart of the Pokémon Go experience is an atmosphere of camaraderie. It's easy to recognize players who are watching their screen for new creatures to catch, and the absence of a chat feature forces players to interact with one another for tips and information.
The creators have also withheld a lot of information regarding the game's interface, so the effect of certain interactions and animations remains unexplained. Players must guess and exchange ideas to find out more about what's happening in the game world.
It Helps Battle Depression
From the start, the game gives players attainable and realistic goals that they have to leave the house to achieve. People fighting depression often have little motivation to leave their homes, despite evidence that being in nature reduces the brain's stress response and helps push away thoughts that encourage and exacerbate depression.
Pokémon Go gives players the option to seek out remote locations in nature or to head to popular meeting places to interact with real people. Such a structure gives people with depression the choice to either be by themselves in nature or to attempt to be social and try to battle depressive thoughts.
How Does Pokémon Go Affect Physical Health?
The game includes additional rewards besides those associated with catching and battling creatures. By going to and interacting with the app at predetermined Pokéstop locations, players can meet with fellow app users and collect in-game items and currency. With the addition of Pokéstops, players have an ongoing incentive to stay on their feet and to move around.
It Encourages Outdoor Activity
Walking or biking is the preferred method of travel intended by the creators. Users can play the game while riding in a car, but the game discourages such behavior by keeping the range at which players can interact with in-game events small. If you're driving in a car, the window to interact opens and closes nearly instantaneously.
Players must walk, run, or bike to get the maximum reward from Pokémon Go. The health benefits of even taking extended walks are numerous. According to Mayo Clinic, walks:
- Help maintain a healthy weight
- Improve mood, balance, and coordination
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Can prevent or help treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
Many players travel in groups, which increases motivation to continue long walks or jogs while attempting to catch new Pokémon.
Pokémon Go Players may see improved health just by having a reason to get outside.
It Reduces Time Spent on the Couch
There's only one way to get Pokémon to come to you when playing – you must use real-world money to buy a temporary lure. Lures are also available as in-game rewards for your accomplishments, but they are rare. The main structure of the game forces players to open their doors and explore. As research mounts on the dangers of long periods of inactivity, Pokémon Go’s biggest health benefit may be that it gets people off the couch.
Even causing players to stand or breathe fresh air has a positive effect on the body. It increases blood flow and decreases the risk of blood clots. It also sends more blood to the brain faster, allowing thought processes to clarify. Breathing fresh oxygen is good for overall health and increases feelings of well-being.
The Risks of Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go is still not a 100% healthy app. It has so far also caused:
The list doesn't stop there. While the app has been blamed for some these incidents, developers, marketers, and safety commissions alike have all considered the consequences of a GPS-based hunt and have, from the release of the game, made players aware of the risks involved if they fail to pay attention to their surroundings.
Developers are still trying to find new ways to compensate for the inattentiveness of players. They have recently added a prompt that, when it detects the player moving at unusual speeds, prevents the player from playing unless he or she indicates 'I am a passenger.' The prompt places a moral dilemma in front of players and forces them to take responsibility for their actions.
Similar developments may help reduce the number of app-related accidents in the future, but the creation of a completely safe, free-roaming augmented reality game may not be so realistic after all. Play responsibly, be aware of your surroundings, and enjoy the wonderful health benefits that Pokémon Go provides.