This summer, the young, the old and the in-between, were all consumed by an almost obsessive love for a mobile gaming app based on a beloved animated show. The brand ambassador being a cute, yellow chinchilla with pointy black tipped ears, a lightning bolt shaped tail, and red cheeks that charge up with electricity, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Pokémon GO, much less of the original series, Pokémon. Now we’ve all heard of the tremendous achievements of this game with regards to motivating people to walk out of their rooms and into the open for a nice long walk, no doubt the game is highly effective at ensuring a decent amount of physical activity and exercise. What is more interesting is that people have reported a boost in the mental health ever since they started using the game. Testimonies to the mental boosting abilities of the game are scattered all over twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. One player goes as far as saying “Pokémon GO has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything that my doctor has prescribed or my therapist has recommended.” Another says “Pokémon GO has changed me so much for the better in only a week. Dealing with BPD, depression & anxiety it has helped me get out of the house.”
How does the game boost mental health? As of yet there have been no scientific studies concerning this game and its role in mental health, so there are no definite answers. However it may be possible to stipulate a few theoretical possibilities:
- Better physical health results in better mental health
Countless studies have been published that prove the benefits of getting out and moving about in promoting mental health. This is especially difficult in individuals with established mood disorders such as anxiety, depression etc. Leave alone contemplating the thought of getting out for exercise they can hardly be motivated to get up and take a shower. The game overcomes this problem by providing a reward in terms of allowing the Pokémon to be caught and trained providing a purpose and at the same time averting any forced social interaction.
- Nature bathing is effective natural therapy in mental illness
It is interesting that the most interesting Pokémon are found near trees, parks and water. Whether this was intentional or a lucky bug in the development of the game, the effects are beneficial. Nature bathing is a mode of natural therapy, advocated by the Japanese, wherein exposure to nature and all its elements are thought to enhance positive thinking and thereby help in treating mental illness. This is supported by studies which show that 30 minutes of nature exposure a week can be tremendously effective in alleviating mental illness.
- Cleverly disguised, attracts sufferers who are in denial
The game was not meant to be a tool to target mental health and thereby it hasn’t been marketed as such. By simulating social interaction it allows people a substitute for the real experience which they are so keen to avoid. Therefore there have been several games which have been developed specifically to target individuals with mental health problems. The problem is that most of these individuals are also intelligent, educated and technologically sophisticated. Such individuals find it difficult to accept and seek help for mental health problems. This game overcomes that by not being promoted as a tool for enhancing mental health.
So now that you have another reason to play the game, put on your favorite (or least favorite cause they might get a little dusty) sneakers and go catch some Pokémon. For moderate to severe illness however, the game should not be used as a substitute for professional help, certainly it is a start, but it should be employed only as an adjunct to other forms of treatment including psychotherapy and medication.
Fourth Year Medical Student, SRMMCHRC
Bridging Passion and Compassion.