I’ll admit, when Pokémon Go was released back in June of this year, I didn’t instantly see what all the fuss was about. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a little too old for the nostalgia it created. When Pokémon first happened, I’d just moved on to my ‘cider, gigs and eyeliner’ phase, and Pokémon was just something my nephews and the kids I would babysit for pocket money were into. So when I saw Pikachu popping up all over my social media feeds, I assumed this was none of my business and a fad that would pass me by.
But then I started to see some of the strong reactions it was provoking; from love to hate. I was seeing angry statuses about it turning people into mindless zombies, and stories of people getting themselves killed playing it. I saw people saying how great it was, that they were getting out and about. I read articles about it’s potential for weight loss, helping with depression and anxiety and helping children with learning difficulties connect with their peers.
As a therapist, and an overgrown woman child, I have to check this out, I thought.
Fortunately I live with someone who was not only one of the Pokémon Generation, but is also an app developer, so he was happy to enthusiastically show me the ropes. Before long I was out and about, catching Zubats and Drowseys, and was soon as hooked as anyone. I definitely began to see the therapeutic benefits. During times of stress, it felt like a great mental break, each Pokémon ‘catch’ gave a wonderful dopamine hit. I got chatting to loads of new people, as we gathered around Pokémon gyms and compared our rare catches; and the exercise potential was obvious. The app acts like a pedometer as well and shows you how far you have walked. You also have to walk to hatch Pokémon from eggs (and these ones are often rarer), so it really encourages you to get moving!
The real selling point for me though, was when I saw a client who suffers from very severe anxiety. They had been out playing Pokémon and it had really helped them get out the house more, and with the focus being on the game, rather than intrusive, anxious thoughts, a lot longer than they were usually able to.
Obviously, like anything there are downsides. I understand the critics who say that the app distracts from people connecting with the world around them, and can see the safety issues are a concern. Also the dopamine-hit factor means it can be quite addictive! I would love it if everyone were mindful enough to go out with no devices and walk through the world connecting with nature, and did so every day; and this is something I do recommend to everyone! However, some people, especially those with depression, anxiety or low confidence, sometimes need a little encouragement, and I truly believe Pokemon Go does this; perhaps as their interest in the game wavers, as interest in such fads invariably do, they will have got to a place where they are more comfortable with being out and about, or maybe they will be fitter from all the walking so will be up fro trying other exercise; or will have made new friends that they can do other activities with.
Only time will tell, and no doubt, other apps of similar design will be along soon that might be more to others tastes; but I predict the format will remain to have benefits. Getting kids away from computer screens and out in the fresh air is a huge achievement, even if a small screen is still involved!
The nights are drawing in, the weather is getting colder, the kids are back at school and the novelty is waning, so my playing of the game has died down and I’m sure others has too, but I still use it a couple of hours a week for a bit of fun and to encourage me on nice long walks (plus I haven’t evolved my Jigglypuff yet and am yet to find a Drangonite), and I will continue to recommend it to clients who need a dopamine boost, or a bit of encouragement to get out and about.
Have you played Pokémon Go yet? Does it drive you mad, or are you a Poké-aholic? Has it helped you with depression, anxiety or helped you get fitter? I would love to know, so please comment below!