Pokémon Go is a new mobile game app that is based on the popular Pokémon game that was created in 1995. It uses a person’s smartphone camera and GPS to place Pokémon characters in the real world in proximity to the player. In order to earn points, these characters need to be “caught” by the player. Players can see the characters in their real world surroundings by looking at their screen, and use the game to capture the Pokémon character.
Although not even out for a full week, many players have already taken to Twitter and other social media to share how Pokémon Go has helped their mental health, mood, social anxiety, and depression.
We already know that exercise helps greatly with depression (along with virtually every other mental health problem), but being motivated to exercise when you’re depressed is a challenge. That’s why an engaging game like Pokémon Go can be helpful.
Pokémon Go does this by encouraging people to get outside, take a walk, talk to others, and explore the world around them. Granted, it’s through their smartphone acting as an interface, but walking is walking, even if the motivation for doing so is to play a game. For a person suffering from depression or another mood disorder, the idea of exercise can be nearly impossible to contemplate, much less do. For someone suffering from social anxiety, the idea of going outside and possibly bumping into others who may want to talk to you is daunting.
Here’s what just a few of the many folks on Twitter have to say about the impact on their mental health that playing Pokémon Go has had:
#PokemonGO has changed me so much for the better in only a week. Dealing with BPD, depression& anxiety it has helped me get out of the house
— Lara (@38Violetqueen) July 11, 2016
#PokemonGo has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything my doctor prescribed or therapist recommended
— Jesseanne Pope (@gleefullyhello) July 11, 2016
#PokemonGO this is actually making me want to leave my room and interact with people finally after years of depression I love this so much
— Amy (@amyxplier) July 10, 2016
Real talk – as someone with anxiety/depression, the fact that I’ve spent most of this weekend outside with friends is unreal. #PokemonGo
— HiRez David (@uglycatlady) July 10, 2016
Is it weird that #PokemonGO is helping my depression? It’s: -getting me out of my house -making me social -encouraging exercise
— Angel (@angel_kink) July 9, 2016
Okay but #PokemonGo is kinda helpful for my depression. 😊
— Reva Mora (@itsRevaMora) July 8, 2016
#PokemonGO is gunna cure my social anxiety. Everyone has been so nice. People are not as scary as originally perceived.
— Captain Naomi (@CptNaomi) July 11, 2016
#PokemonGO made me walk around a park! Take that social anxiety!
— The Lovely Spazzet (@Spazzeon) July 11, 2016
I know this sounds silly but #PokemonGo has helped me a lot with my social anxiety by encouraging me to go out more.
— •Shep (@StickySheepu) July 10, 2016
Took another 4 mile walk and talked to 4 people along the way. #PokémonGo may solve obesity and social anxiety in one app.
— Allan (@AllanTries) July 10, 2016
However, not everyone is having a positive experience with Pokémon Go:
— ramona flowers (@OJMPlemons) July 8, 2016
I had a plan to distract myself from depression today and that was #PokemonGo. But now my account is gone? Boo. BOO.
— Ginny McQueen (@GinnyMcQueen) July 7, 2016
The more I hear about #PokemonGo the deeper my depression becomes. No actual trainer battles, no real gyms, and the accessory is $35.00
— Keith Trottier (@KeithRTrottier) June 18, 2016
Unintended Consequences of Gaming
I think this is a wonderful demonstration of the unintentional but beneficial consequences of gaming and producing a game that encourages healthy exercise. Hundreds of app developers have tried to develop mood-altering apps by encouraging people to track their mood or providing them with encouraging affirmations. But these apps rarely catch on, and few people continue using them past the first week.
Research has long shown the benefits of simple exercise on improving mood. The developers behind Pokémon Go didn’t mean to create a mental health gaming app. But they’ve done so, and the effects seem to be largely positive.