“Oh my goodness, there’s a Pikachu nearby!”
“Excuse me, if you don’t mind me asking, where did you catch that jigglypuff?”
“NOT ANOTHER SILLY ZUBAT!”
You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen scores of strangers playing it on the streets; perhaps you yourself are a budding Pokémon master. There’s no doubt that Pokémon Go has truly taken the world by storm, transforming the old and young alike into avid adventurers and uniting total strangers in their quest to “catch ‘em all”.
Naturally, some critics have accused the game of essentially ‘turning multitudes of people into walking zombies’, heads down and clutching phones in chase of imaginary creatures. But amidst stories of players walking into poles, near-misses with vehicles and even accidently discovering dead bodies, comes an enormous potential for augmented reality games – such as Pokémon Go – to positively influence gaming in a world where obesity and sedentary lifestyles are on the rise. Perhaps most interestingly, the benefits of augmented reality games don’t just cease with increasing physical activity; many players have taken to social media platforms such as Twitter to comment on the positive impact the game has had on their mental health.
Here are just some of the ways Pokémon Go has positively benefited the health of players:
A wholeeeeeeee heap of walking!
Traditional videos games have long received criticism for increasing screen time and reducing physical activity in players. Pokémon Go is one of the first – and by far the most successful – games to challenge this stereotype. Players realise relatively early on that progression within the game is almost impossible without moving around – a lot. Through rewarding players who get up to move – whether it be to new physical locations to catch different Pokémon or walking a certain distance to hatch eggs (the longer the distance, the rarer the Pokémon hatched), the game proves to be an incredible motivator to encourage players to literally, get ‘out and about’.
My experience: I was certainly no exception to this. Within the first fortnight of downloading the app, I had walked over 71km just to catch Pokémon– (which was probably more than I had walked this entire year)! Interestingly, data from Jawbone – a wearable activity tracker – show that its average self-declared Pokémon Go user’s daily step count jumped from 6,000 to nearly 11,000 steps following the game’s release.
Fresh air and sunlight (in winter?!)
‘Pokémon Go is literally the only reason I decided to step out of my house and into the cold’.
It’s a statement that I’ve heard over and over again from friends and strangers alike, and words that I too can relate to. Melbourne weather, especially during winter, is notorious for being gloomy and unpredictable; for many, this is a disincentive to go out to the local park for a stroll.
Pokémon Go gives players, who may have otherwise preferred to remain rugged up indoors, a reason to step out into the real world, get some fresh air and discover new locations (and Pokémon!). There is plenty of evidence to show that breathing outdoors improves mood and health, as well as boosting vitamin D levels!
My experience: Since the launch of the game, I’ve observed a roughly threefold increase in the number of people at my local park (a Pokémon hotspot). It seems that players will go to any length to defend their local Pokémon gym – through rain, hail or shine.
Uniting friends and strangers alike – in real life
Many popular video games have online communities, where players are able to interact with other players – such as talk, trade items and share tips – often through a pseudonym. Pokémon Go takes this to a whole new level, bringing players together in the real world, in often unexpected ways. Public locations in vicinity of Pokémon Gyms, Pokéstops and lure models are hotspots for player interactions, and interestingly, as many have discovered, Pokémon Go is an incredibly successful conversation starter. It still surprises me how small interactions with total strangers – sharing locations of where they caught their rare Pokémon or tips on Gym Battles – can lead on to fruitful conversations on just about anything and everything in life. And who knows – in a world where community division is increasingly prevalent, games like Pokémon Go might just be what we need to bring unity across people from all walks of life.
My experience: I was walking along the banks of the Yarra with a friend when my 10km egg finally hatched into an Onix; ecstatic, I squealed with excitement. A couple on a Pokémon date (yes this is actually a thing) ran up to us and asked us what Pokémon we had caught. Although slightly disappointed that my haul was from an egg, we proceeded to spend the next few hours chatting away about holidays and uni and life whilst taking over a few Pokémon Gyms in the vicinity. The true power (or madness) of Pokémon Go – uniting total strangers in the quest to catch imaginary monsters!
Improving mental health
There’s no doubt that exercise, fresh air and social interaction are part of the recipe to good mental health. Pokémon Go has been commended for being a source of motivation for many struggling with their mental health – getting players out of the house and being a bridge for interacting with friends and strangers alike – tasks which can be huge milestones for those suffering from anxiety or depression. What makes Pokémon Go so successful in this sense is the fact that the game is not presented as a tool to help treat mental illness, but rather, cultivates healthy behaviours for all players alike. Although by no means a substitute for professional treatment, the game can be the first step towards self-care and a stepping-stone towards healthier habits.
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Pokémon Go has had an unprecedented effect on society – in both positive and negative ways. As technology continues to advance, games based on augmented reality such as Pokémon Go will become increasingly numerous. As for whether Pokémon Go can change the health sphere? There’s no doubt that it does encourage healthy behaviours in players, and will be a huge step forward in the battle against obesity. And unlike other gaming innovations such as the Nintendo Wii – which similarly was commended as a physical activity booster but whose popularly quickly faded – the ‘shared hallucination’ of Pokémon Go and augmented reality provides the extra dimension of face-to-face social interactions with other players, contributing to the technology’s huge success.
No matter what the answer is, this is undoubtedly just the beginning for augmented reality games.