Why going to ‘Catch ‘em all’ is good for your health
From breaking download records to skyrocketing Nintendo’s shares, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. For those – very few – who are unaware, Pokémon Go is a GPS-based augmented reality mobile game based on the popular TV and trading card game series that enraptured kids in the 1990s. The app imposes pokémon on the user’s camera, giving players the opportunity to catch them in a real-world setting; the more ground the user covers (literally), the more Pokémon can be discovered and caught. It’s a simple yet engaging process.
But as well as turning a large percentage of the UK’s population – and indeed the world’s – into budding Pokémon trainers, the app is also bringing about a number of health benefits to its users, with medical professionals emphasising that the list of benefits is likely to grow.
The potential physical benefits of Pokémon Go were highlighted almost immediately after its release. The game essentially incentivises and encourages physical activity, a deliberate goal of the app’s creators. The more you walk, the more Pokémon you can catch, and this mechanism has produced some clear early results. Statistics from Jawbone, a wearable technology tracker, shows that its average Pokémon Go user’s daily step account jumped from 6,000 to 11,000 steps in the space of a few days. Some users have also reported that the app is more motivating than traditional activity trackers, therefore leading to continued use and, subsequently, continued activity.
But the benefits go much deeper than increasing physical activity. In addition to exercise, John Hanke, CEO of Pokémon Go developer Niantic, stated another goal of the game was for it to act as an “icebreaker”, a mechanism to get people to interact in a way they would not have or would have avoided before. And this seems to have worked, especially for individuals with social anxiety and depression; one user tweeted that the game gave her “purpose and reason to go outside at last”, and another wrote that the app encouraged physical activity “more than anything else has so far”.
The app is also drawing praise from users affected by Autism and their parents. Similar to the above, reports and user testimonials of the app’s positive effects on the behaviour of people with Autism – particularly children – are becoming more and more frequent. Young people who would usually stay clear of large crowds and social interaction are now voluntarily being brought into the middle of it. Individuals who would otherwise not break from their set routine are now doing so, a change that parents have been quick to praise. The app has further being targeted as an educational tool, with the game used as the basis for building learning experiences for children with Autism.
The app is still somewhat it in its infancy, and health professionals have stated that these health benefits may just be the start, with more likely to come. If this is the case, may we soon start seeing the app and its technology not just as a game but also a genuine health tool? Research has already shown the improvements the game can make to certain cognitive functions, so will we see it prescribed as a form of conditioning for these areas? Can the app be integrated into depression or anxiety treatments? As the technology behind the game undoubtedly develops, will we see the physical tracking aspects of the app become more extensive and subsequently more useful for health professionals? The answer to these questions is ultimately unknown, but the potential is very real.
Pokémon Go’s rapid ascension to king of the mobile gaming world can be viewed as a passing fad, one that has ultimately made its creators a lot of money. But as the more and more people share their stories, it might just be worth putting aside any cynicism we may have and instead celebrate the positive effect this game is having on so many people from so many areas of the globe.
[Photo credit: Credit: Matthew Corley / Shutterstock.com]