If you haven’t already heard about Pokémon GO, that is totally Onix-ceptable! You must have been living under a rock…
As a kid, watching the Pokémon TV show, playing the video games, and collecting the cards, there was nothing I wanted more than to be able to explore the Pokémon World myself, collecting my very own army of the pocket monsters.
Little did I know that two decades later, my childhood fantasy would become real, with the release of the Pokémon GO app that has changed the game when it comes to technology’s place in the real world.
A New Kind of Game
Through the use of augmented reality (AR) the game has thrown these digital-world characters into the physical world, using the phone’s camera to show the digitally-overlain critters scampering through the undergrowth of your local parks, or across the rooftops of your neighbourhood.
Not only has it shown players a whole new world around them, throwing AR into the mass market, but there is growing evidence that this app is going above and beyond its role as a simple game.
Many have turned to social media and news outlets to declare that Pokémon GO has changed their lives – reducing depression, anxiety and impacting on a range of other mental health issues.
But how likely is it that this is the case? Is it really possible for a game to have such a positive impact on people’s lives? On face value it seems impossible, but there’s a lot more to the game than meets the eye.
The Internet Paradox
In 1998 a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, lead by Robert E. Kraut, conducted a study which found that increased internet use actually leads to decreases in the size of participants’ social circles, the amount of time they spent talking with family members in the house, and increases in depression and loneliness. They termed this phenomenon the “Internet Paradox”.
They thought of the concept as paradoxical because in spite of the internet primarily boasting of its ability to connect people, and its encouragement of interactions, the more that people used it, the more disconnected they became. In their conclusion, the researchers suggested that internet use was “displacing social activity” – essentially taking up time that had previously been spent engaging in social activities.
A Social Game
Although Pokémon GO is a game that relies on an internet connection, it entirely subverts the concept (at least by Kraut et al’s standards) – people are using the app to instigate social interactions. Pokémon GO smashed the ‘social real world’ and the ‘social internet world’ together at high velocity, demanding that players socialize with one another, not through words on a screen, or voices in a headset, but face-to-face.
By sharing information with other players about their stats, or the kinds of Pokémon in the local area, players simultaneously engross themselves in the game and the real world. Here, their internet use doesn’t replace social activity, but compliments it, the game cannot be played, much less beaten, if you don’t go and walk outside.
The Link Between Exercise and Happiness
Another of the features that make Pokémon GO a tool for happiness is that it requires players to exercise. If you want to catch an array of Pokémon, level up the ones you currently have, or have a larger assortment of items, you need to walk around your neighbourhood – or further afield if you’re feeling adventurous!
Stories have surfaced online of the extreme distances people are walking in order to beat the game. The UK’s first player to “Catch ‘Em All” walked 140 miles, losing over 28 pounds, over a period of just 2 weeks (that in itself is enough to make anyone feel good about themselves!)
With all this exercise comes a lot of positive benefits – countless studies have shown a link between exercise and endorphin levels in the body, as well as a reduction in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. By simply playing the game, people are chemically dispositioned to feel better, and have a brighter outlook on life.
Further, the direct impact that exercise has on one’s physical health, such as increased strength and weight loss, all help towards feeling better in general.
Link Between Being Outside and Happiness
In addition to all the research linking exercising with feeling good, a lot can be said for simply being outside. One study by the University of Essex found that taking a walk in nature reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants.
Although these people were screen-free when taking part in the study, and there was a distinction between walking in nature and walking in a shopping center, there was certainly a noteworthy impact on the mental health of the participants. The study is a strong indication that simply getting outside, in any capacity, could be very beneficial for mental wellbeing.
Dr Constantine Sedikides, a professor of psychology at University of Southampton, UK, pioneered a whole area of research and study into the feeling of nostalgia. Not only in how this feeling manifests itself, but also its effect on us as emotional beings. After over a decade of study, nostalgia has been shown across multiple studies to counteract not only boredom and anxiety, but also loneliness.
With a massive 46 per cent of Pokémon GO players falling into 18 – 29 age bracket, the app is certainly being enjoyed by an audience who would have been young children at the height of the Pokémon hype in the 90s and early 2000s. It’s quite possible that many players are using the app as a throwback to childhood. As Sedikides has shown, this could well be counteracting feelings of sadness or loneliness they’re experiencing in their present-day life through the power of nostalgia.
GO Forth and Prosper
Pokémon GO has changed the way in which we see the world, not only by uncovering thousands of creatures around us that nobody noticed before, but primarily by revealing just how great an impact technology, or more importantly our use of technology, can have on our lives for the better. Happiness. I choose you!