Pokemon Go: An App or a Tool for Psychotherapy?

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By Phuong Pham

Unless you live under a geodude, you’ve more than likely heard of the latest fad sweeping mobile gaming: Pokemon Go. However, Pokemon Go seems to be more than just this year’s Candy Crush. While the game has been a financial smash hit for Niantic Inc., it has had unexpected benefits for players, as well: positive changes in mental health for players. 

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One of the worst stigmas to plague gamers is that gamers are anti-social individuals. However, with the advent of Pokemon Go, it seems as though gamers are now more social than ever. It appears that more and more everyday, people are reporting a decrease in depression and anxiety due to what many perceive as a silly little phone app.

Why is it, then, that Pokemon Go has been able to help users with ailments they have battled their whole lives? Firstly, the nostalgia aspect of the game is bridging a generational gap between those who grew up with the original 150 Pokemon and those who grew up on later iterations such as Pokemon White and Black.

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Secondly, the game does something that few games have been able to do: motivate the player to go outside. While this sounds like the punchline to a cheap joke about gamers, truthfully, there are not that many games for the outdoor gamer. Sure, one could argue that there are mobile handheld consoles like the Game Boy, the Nintendo DS, etc. but they don’t necessarily have an effect on the environment. For instance, playing Tetris on the original Game Boy doesn’t change whether you play it on your couch or at the beach. However, with a game like Pokemon Go, the gameplay actually does change depending on your location: that is a claim the Nintendo DS and the Game Boy can’t make. For instance, while there are games for both PC and the AR console, the Oculus Rift, the gameplay feels decidedly different. While Google Glass may not be a video game console, it changes the way we interact with our surroundings through technology. And it seems that AR technology is becoming more prevalent, everyday.

For instance, a story from CNN details several accounts of how Pokemon Go has helped several children combat autism and Asperger’s syndrome. For those who are unaware, Asperger’s and autism are mental disorders which affect social interaction. Children, like 12-year-old Ian Thayer, who were once shy and preferred to be isolated from peers have been motivated to go outside to catch Pokemon and go to Pokestops, which are usually located in highly populated areas. It motivates children like Ian to go out and interact with people who have a shared interest.

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For someone who is generally private and anti-social by nature, I found that I was always more at ease and gregarious at cons and tapings of some of my favorite podcasts (Thrilling Adventure Hour is one that I highly recommend.) The problem is conventions and tapings are not always abundant or local. However, I noticed that when Pokemon Go launched, people in my neighborhood were out in droves looking to catch ’em all. I remember three lures being set up within several feet of each other so a friend and I walked over and found a large group of people who got the same idea. While there, we learned more about the game from opposing team members, no less! Pokemon Go feels like a constant convention I can go to and feel immediately at home.

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Others may argue that while this game is helping many and that only youth and adolescents are really benefiting. This is also untrue as Pokemon Go is being shown to help the elderly recover at a rehabilitation clinic. The DeBary Health and Rehabilitation Center has been using the Pokemon Go app to help senior patients with physical therapy. Unaware of whether or not the game would appeal to the elderly, the physical therapists found that seniors ended up loving the app and patients that were unenthusiastic about attending their physical therapy appointments were suddenly eager to attend. Not only did the game help seniors physically, but it also gave them a way to relate to their grandchildren. While some people may not put much stock in mental health therapies, it is impossible to deny the physical benefits the game is providing.

These are just a couple of the many that can be found throughout the Internet of how Pokemon Go is helping people. While some people may find it silly, Pokemon Go is actually helping people in a significant way. And honestly, if people are feeling better, both physically and mentally, then clearly it’s super effective!

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