Respawn: Pokémon Go has Serious Therapeutic Potential, but there’s a Catch

America became great again over the past week thanks to this pop culture gem you may have seen everywhere called Pokémon Go. You’re thinking one of two thoughts right now. 1) He’s out of his mind. This is the worst thing to happen to the world since the Internet was invented by Al Gore or 2) He’s totally right on point. Look at all the amazing benefits that have come from this game in just one week!

Before I go on, let me back up a bit. We have a lot very interesting things happening in the world right now in regards to generational beliefs and differences. It’s not uncommon to hear the 30 plus year olds talk about how kids need to be outside more and “when I was a kid my mom would make us get out of the house and use our imagination.” Gaming, the Internet, smart phones, TV and all other types of screens commonly take the brunt of the blame for the worlds problems. The younger generation of adults who have grown up with all of these things only know how the world exists as the globally connected beast that it is.

So enter Pokémon Go onto the scene.

In case you haven’t quite caught wind of the craze, Pokémon Go is an app that was designed to get people out of the house and looking for virtual fictional creatures all over the place. The Pokémon (a mash up name that comes from the two words pocket monsters) franchise has been around since the mid 90’s. Before released as an app on smart phones, the franchise saw life on hand held gaming devices, trading card games, comics, toys, and cartoons.   The basic concept of all them though have always been the same. Human trainers will catch them, train them and battle each other for sport. The app version that was released on the 5th of July kept the same overall concept but tapped in to the worlds advancing technology to virtually place the fictional creatures all around us and thus creating an environment that promotes activity in the community.

There are definitely some great things happening that we can highlight, but also some negatives that we can’t sweep under the rug and dismiss.

The Good

The biggest and easiest to see is the obvious physical component it brings to the table. Catering to an audience who typically do a lot of gaming, it’s great to see enthusiasm for a game that will pull you off your couch and get you active. America needs more activity, there’s no denying it. Another thing that I love is that it’s giving people a fresh new look at their communities and what they have to offer. The app uses Google maps for it’s navigation system and identifies local spots around town as PokeStops and Pokémon Go gyms where people can come together and battle each other. People who suffer from social anxiety disorder, depression, and other mental health problems are finding that the game has given them a therapeutic outlet that was unexpected and incredibly welcome.

In a recent article about the benefits of Pokémon Go written by Dr. John Grohol, Psychologist and CEO of PsychCentral, he states that “We already know that exercise helps greatly with depression (along with virtually every other mental health problem), but being motivated to exercise when you’re depressed is a challenge. That’s why an engaging game like Pokémon Go can be helpful.”

There are numerous tweets and posts thrown up on social media daily that identify the game as being a huge mental health tool that has been personally beneficial for them. These are just a few examples of some of the benefits, and I didn’t even touch on the cognitive perks that it brings to the table.

The not so Good

It’s not all peaches and roses though. There are definitely some negatives that come with it. The first one that probably dominates every mother’s thoughts is that this isn’t the activity that America needs. Sure, it’s great that kids(and….well…..yes, 20-40 year old adults) are out. I don’t think that’s the problem. The issue is that we’re basically bringing more distraction to the outdoors where we’re trying to encourage imagination and engagement with nature. On top of that, it’s probably not the best idea to wander around the streets with your eyes glued to the phone in search for that fictional beast you just “have to find!” Niantic and Nintendo (responsible for the game) have very directly addressed the issue by shooting a reminder to each player to pay attention to their surroundings while they’re out an about. There’s also a huge issue right now with searching for Pokémon while driving. The game is addicting to say the least and because it interacts with the immediate environment, people are constantly looking for that elusive super rare pocket monster at every opportunity. One thing that Americans do well is to find ways to be lazy. This game is no exception. I mean, why walk all over the place when I can just drive? Am I right? The big issue here is safety. There have been a lot of reports of car accidents and dangerous driving that will no doubt get worse as the game evolves. I hope to see some sort of tool that shuts the spawn process off when a certain speed threshold is met.
It would be easy to stand your ground on either side of an argument for the benefits vs. Negatives. Whichever side you fall on, I encourage you to open your eyes to the other side. In the mean time, I’ll be out with my son on a several kilometer walk downtown hunting down that elusive Mewtwo we’re all trying to get our hands on. Gotta catch em all!

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