Pokémon Go: A Promising Tool
Students of Applied Psychology & Technology teamed up past semester to write blog posts. You can read the three best posts here: on social media & women’s body image, online advertising & online shopping behavior, and Pokémon Go.
by Imaan Asselman & Noelia González Kringhs
Pokémon Go is a mobile game application, available for free, that came out in 2016 and instantly became a global phenomenon. It is an augmented reality game where users are meant to catch virtual Pokémon creatures in real places. The more they explore the real world, the more chances they have at finding and catching different Pokémon. The game encourages its players to walk to Pokéstops, usually landmarks, where they can get Pokéballs that they will need to catch Pokémon. The game also has virtual gyms where the users can battle each other (Lateef, Chong, Sethi, & Loh, 2018; Freeman, Chau, & Mihrshahi, 2017).
It was a big hype when the game first came out, but what are the pros and cons of this app?
It has been said that games can cause social isolation, but not this one. To play this game you have to go outside, interact with other people and even walk some distances for certain challenges. There have been various studies done to see what the impact is of Pokémon Go on mental health and most of them were positive. One study quoted: “Pokémon Go was positively associated with increased positive affect, nostalgic reverie, friendship formation, and friendship intensification” (Lateef et al., p. 244, 2018). It also mentioned that there was a decrease in depression among people who played this game because of the physical activity.
Augmented reality (AR) games like Pokémon Go have given some new insights in how people with social anxiety can possibly be treated. AR has already been proved proven to be successful in treating people with certain phobias, like arachnophobia, by exposing them indirectly to their fear through a phone application. People who are socially anxious can get in contact with other people through Pokémon Go in a more exciting manner. This way, it can make the experience more bearable (Lateef et al., 2018).
The same thing goes for people who suffer from hikikomori. “Hikikomori in Japan is the phenomenon of social withdrawal that affects hundreds of thousands of individuals, in which the individual shuts his/herself in their room, generally at their family’s home, for several months or even years without engaging in social relationships” (Tajan, 2015, p. 326). A lot of research still needs to be done, but some studies say that Pokémon Go and other AR-games can encourage people to go outside to play instead of isolating themselves inside. It may not cure the people who suffer from this condition but it is certainly a first step (Kato, Teo, Tateno, Watabe, Kubo & Kanba, 2016).
The impact of Pokémon Go on mental health wasn’t the only thing researchers were interested in. Some of them also looked at how physical activity can be influenced by this game application. The opinions were divided. A number of studies said that there wasn’t a significant impact on the physical health of people while others proved the opposite. There was an increase in steps shown on a daily basis, because of Pokémon Go, in some studies. Sadly, these were only temporary and strongly depend on how much people play this game, but this shows that it is possible to alter people’s behavior through an AR-game and positively affect their health. This is a huge implication for the health department as it motivates people to change their lifestyle positively (Althoff, White, & Horvitz, 2016; Watanabe, Kawakami, Imamura, Inoue, Shimazu, Yoshikawa & Tsutsumi, 2017).
However, the game also seems to have some disadvantages. There have been reports of dangerous (physical) incidents as a result of the game. People have been involved in traffic accidents because either the driver of the vehicle or the pedestrian were distracted by Pokémon Go.
The game threatens the safety and physical well-being of its players, mostly the children, as they can be tracked via the geo-locating feature and robbed or attacked. It can easily provide predators with information about children’s location and whereabouts.
In some cases the Pokéstops were located on private property which resulted in trespassing. Some property owners did not mind, while others did. Some players trespassed accidentally, because they were not aware they were on private property, but others did it intentionally. This poses questions as to how far the players are willing to go to play.
The app can be time-consuming so to not hurt other activities, the users sacrifice sleep. This in turn can affect their (overall) health negatively. Corporations saw the popularity of the game as an opportunity to promote things that may endanger public health, like fast food.
There was a fast increase and decrease of the game’s popularity, the number of active users decreased significantly only a month after it came out (Lateef et al., 2018; Freeman et al., 2017; Watanabe et al., 2017).
We can conclude that Pokémon Go has its advantages in many ways, but it isn’t 100% perfect. Overall it certainly turned out to be helpful in terms of mental health and the improvement of the physical health of people. Still, a lot of research has to be done about this game and other AR -games, but based on this information we can say that Pokémon Go can be a promising tool to increase the well-being and the physical condition of people.
Althoff, T., White, R. W., & Horvitz, E. (2016). Influence of Pokémon Go on Physical Activity: Study and Implications. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(12), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.6759
Freeman, B., Chau, J., & Mihrshahi, S. (2017). Why the public health sector couldn’t create Pokémon Go. Public Health Research & Practice, 27(3), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.17061/phrp2731724
Kato, T. A., Teo, A. R., Tateno, M., Watabe, M., Kubo, H., & Kanba, S. (2016). Can Pokémon GO rescue shut-ins (hikikomori) from their isolated world? Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 71(1), 75–76. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12481
Lateef, F., Chong, Y., Sethi, D. K., & Loh, C. H. Y. (2018). Going forward with Pokemon Go. Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock, 11(4), 243–246. https://doi.org/10.4103/jets.jets_87_17
Tajan, N. (2015). Social withdrawal and psychiatry: A comprehensive review of Hikikomori. Neuropsychiatrie de l’Enfance et de l’Adolescence, 63(5), 324–331. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurenf.2015.03.008
Watanabe, K., Kawakami, N., Imamura, K., Inoue, A., Shimazu, A., Yoshikawa, T., … Tsutsumi, A. (2017). Pokémon GO and psychological distress, physical complaints, and work performance among adult workers: a retrospective cohort study. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-11176-2
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