Can Pokémon Go change the health sphere?

Fitness, Technology, Uncategorized

 

“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!

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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

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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.

 

 

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100 Happy Days: A Review of Sorts

Mental Health, Technology

So this was a social media craze a while back – not so relevant now, but as I reach the end of my life as a medical student and look back on the challenges and the highlights, it definitely came to mind.

For those of you who haven’t come across it, the challenge is to have #100HappyDays, in that the goal is to try and find one thing to be happy for each day for 100 consecutive days. And document it by posting about it on your preferred social media platform. You can read more about the idea here – I’m sure the founders will be able to explain it much better than I can!

Like all things on the Internet, it had its supporters and it had its haters.

A lot of people really got into it and loved sharing their special moments with everyone and seeing other people’s’. They connected with the idea of taking time out to just appreciate something and let that appreciation improve their mood.

Others, like this guy, weren’t so keen. And I see his point. It does have a lot of potential to be attention-seeking, quite “narcissistic” and contribute to this fake image of success that gets promoted on social media and eventually makes people feel like they’re not having as much fun as everyone else. Which is bad, it puts people in a bad place and is no good!

So how does it balance out? Is it a good idea or isn’t it?

I’m in no position to declare #100HappyDays a good or bad thing. What I can do, though, is talk about my experience with it. #100HappyDays featured around the middle of my meddie-life, when I was finding things quite difficult and very much wanting to just pack up, call it a day and go home. It wasn’t so much the ‘busy-ness’ of life that the 100 Happy Days website talks about, as much as the monotonous, grey situation that it was. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Life was a bit grey (it did not help that Melbourne in winter is literally grey as well!), and 100 Happy Days was very, well, yellow. Refreshing and bright.

Now, Delegato is quite right in his Thought Catalog piece – a lot of the posts I made were very boring! I remember posting about what I thought was a cute teapot at a café (it was white with a crack in it?), or beating my personal best on a run by about a minute (which was probably due to error on my phone’s GPS) or eating things which were very plain and boring (I’m sorry, but yoghurt, blueberries and a TimTam chucked into a bowl is NOT worth a photo!)

But it helped. I sound like a parrot, but honestly, taking time out to think about something that made you smile, to document it, to be able to look back on it in the future when you’re feeling glum – it inexplicably did put me in a better mood.

One of the criticisms of the concept is that it’s all a bit fake and temporary. A bandaid solution, Day 101 we’re back to unhappy. But I don’t think it has to be that way. I think it’s about making happy a habit. The default. It’s 100% ok to not be happy! To get upset and angry and disappointed and all the million combinations of those emotions. It’s healthy and necessary even! But slowly moving your baseline up from neutral to slightly positive helps you cope with those nasty lows, and helps you enjoy an average day much more than you would have otherwise. Plus, actively seeking out things that make you happy means you’re actively seeking out things that are good for you – people, places, experiences that put you in a better mood and frame of mind. It’s not about having a picture-perfect life, but about finding and actively incorporating happiness in the day-to-day. When that becomes a habit – and 100 days is a long time, plenty of time to start forming a new habit! – I think you definitely develop some tools and skills to help you get that point.

I mean, it’s not for everyone, I have a few friends who started but then found it seemed a bit pointless and that they didn’t need it or it wasn’t working for them.  But for anyone even remotely interested, I would 10/10 recommend giving it a go. If nothing, it’s fun and the camera on your phone certainly gets a good workout!

Smiling Mind

Mental Health, Technology

Smiling Mind is a modern mindfulness meditation website and free app for young people. It’s meditation made easy! It was developed by a team of psychologists with expertise in youth and adolescent therapy, mindfulness meditation and web-based wellness programs. The programs are designed to incorporate easily into the daily life of young people. Age-specific programs outline the key aspects of mindfulness meditation in the form of guided meditations with the objective of managing stress and increasing resilience. You can practice the programs anywhere and anytime. Even as little as five minutes per day could have your mind feeling clearer and calmer! Give it a try! Download it free from the app store or check out the Smiling Mind website.

http://smilingmind.com.au/

Smiling Mind? What is this App?

Food For Thought, Technology

Smiling Mind is a unique web and App-based program developed by a team of psychologists with expertise in youth and adolescent therapy, Mindfulness Meditation and web-based wellness programs. Smiling Mind is a non-for-profit, free tool that will assist in improving to the lives of young Australians by providing clarity, calmness, contentment and balance. It is available online or as a smartphone app.

For more information see: http://smilingmind.com.au/blog/#!/category/background/what-is-smiling-mind