Was this weekend a particularly active one for you? Were you, perhaps, motivated to get out of bed, throw on a hoodie, and hunt down every pokémon hidden away in your hometown?
If so, good work. And you’re not alone: the arrival of Pokémon GO in Australia, New Zealand and the United States has all kinds of people going out, meeting people, and feeling a little better about their mental health.
If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with Pokémon GO, it’s an augmented reality app for mobile device. Players travel around real-world locations, searching for nearby monsters in the app. If they find one, they can capture it, raise it, and eventually evolve it into an even better pokémon. They can also take their collection to specific landmarks that are flagged as Pokémon Gyms, and battle other ‘trainers’ for supremacy in the game.
All of that requires a lot of outdoor activity. Since Gyms are all preset landmarks, Pokémon GO players have been running into each other in droves, sometimes making new friends in the process.
Buzzfeed and attn have been gathering stories of people who have been motivated by the game to go outside, get some exercise and make new friends — despite depression, social anxiety, and other mental health issues. Users on sites like Twitter and Tumblr have been happily sharing their excitement:
Others have talked about how the game hasn’t helped their mental health or isn’t enough to push them into situations they find terrifying — but that’s okay, too. No single approach helps everyone, and a video game shouldn’t be expected to be a universal treatment for depression and anxiety. It isn’t a treatment at all, but the fact that it’s getting some people out into parks and other green spaces alone is wonderful — like exercise, spending time in greenspace is good for your mental health.
Writer Jenn Frank shared her experience of a late-night pokémon-hunting experience on Paste:
We took a right turn, following our smartphones to the next destination. We fell silent, wandering together in the mist—when a door to our right flew open, and three twentysomethings fell out of this warmly-illuminated entryway together. They were all holding smartphones, all giggling, and all wearing hooded sweatshirts.
“You’re kidding me,” I said to nobody in particular.
“Hey!” the one in front said to me.
I stood there, paralyzed.
“Hey!” my husband piped up. “Are you guys heading to the mall?” He nodded toward the strip mall across the way.
“Yeah, we are!” the one in charge replied. This was ridiculous: By now, it was midnight. The mall was closed, first of all.
“I want to go,” I complained anyway.
That easy camaraderie with strangers is hard to come by for a lot of us — for Frank, who recently moved to a new town, it was clearly a notable experience.
Of course, it hasn’t all been good. One player found a body during her off-road exploration. A few people have reported undue attention from the local police for their late-night skulking. A particularly innovative group of criminals targetted Pokémon GO gyms for victims to rob. Injuries are also a risk.
But before we go writing this off as the latest dangerous teen craze, let’s take a moment to remember that those are all risks of going outside. Maybe it’s hard for you to take those risks, or maybe it’s an everyday occurrence. Either way, if Pokémon GO helps you get out there, talk to people, and get a little exercise in the process, that’s a positive step. Take care, pay attention to your surroundings, and you’ll probably be just fine. It sounds pretty good: being a pokémon trainer, enjoying activities that can be beneficial for your mental health, and being able to do ridiculous things like this.
— Doctor B (@DoctorB_Seattle) July 10, 2016
As for us, Pokémon GO is taking team Take This by storm. Doctor B is already dominating his neighborhood as a gym leader, I hear. Me? Well, get back to me when it finally arrives in Canada. I have the perfect trainer hoodie all picked out.