Since Pokemon Go was released this month, it has had some surprising impacts on its millions of users, including offering benefits for players who suffer from mental health conditions.
A few tweets from some users read as follows:
“PokemonGo has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything my doctor prescribed or therapist recommended.”
“Took another 4 mile walk and talked to 4 people along the way. PokemonGo may solve obesity and social anxiety in one app.”
“PokemonGO is gunna cure my social anxiety. Everyone has been so nice. People are not as scary as originally perceived.”
As playing the game requires going out and exploring one’s neighborhood to find and capture Pokemon, leaving the house does not come with the forced social interaction which can make it so difficult. While there are hundreds of apps attempting to improve mental health by affirmations or mood tracking, many lose interest after a few days or weeks.
Can we Use Science to Explain the Benefits?
But is there any scientific evidence to explain these benefits? Yes, for both the increased physical activity and the fact that some of the best Pokemon are found near trees or water.
A study has found that spending just 30 minutes a week in nature can reduce the risk of depression by 7% and high blood pressure by 9%. With the high prevalence of these conditions, even 7 and 9% means a significant number of people benefit. Social cohesion (the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other), measured by trust, reciprocal exchange, and general community cohesion, also improved.
Another study found that going for a 90-minute walk through a grassland area decreased activity in the area of the brain responsible for negative rumination when compared to brain scans before the walk. Rumination is repetitive thoughts focusing on negative aspects of the self, and can increase the risk of depression.
As for simply exercising, a study on 1,904 women with depressive symptoms, mild or moderate depression, found that 200 minutes of walking a week, or 150 minutes of moderate exercise (golf, tennis, swimming, aerobics or line dancing), was linked with improvements in mental health. They had more energy, socialized more, felt emotionally better, and were not as limited by their depression. 150 minutes is equal to just over 20 minutes a day, while 200 minutes can be spread out and rounded up to 30 minutes a day.
More exercise was associated with greater improvements, though there were still benefits at lower levels of exercise. However, the average Pokemon Go player is likely to walk for much longer than 30 minutes at a time.
Overall, it looks like a game that is not only enjoyable and world-famous, but also leads to much-needed exercise and time outside, should not be automatically dismissed as “stupid” or “childish.”