For people who struggle with social anxiety, Pokémon Go can be a mixed blessing. It gets us out of the house and interacting with folks who share our interests, particularly since the advent of 20-player raids. Outdoor activity and socializing is certainly a pretty healthy way to pass the time. On the other hand, it can be tough to want to participate in a game that actually requires so much social interaction.
A recent University of British Columbia study looked at how introverted and extroverted players engage with Pokémon Go and found that, sure enough, introverted players had a harder time of things. Researchers recruited 101 players between the ages of 18 and 28 to participate in the study. They answered questions about their personalities, social anxiety and social competence. Then they went out to play.
Over the duration of the study, participants with greater social competence and less social anxiety visited more Pokéstops, caught more Pokémon, and gained more experience than their introverted counterparts. Players with more social anxiety caught notably fewer Pokémon during the same period.
“We found that players who are socially anxious might be self-conscious and less likely to engage in the game because they may fear others are judging them,” said Adri Khalis, the study’s lead author and graduate student in the UBC department of psychology. “They may hesitate to play when others are watching and are less likely to collaborate with fellow players, like pointing out nearby Pokémon or sharing tips.”
These findings could help developers make games that help people who struggle socially. Khalis suggests that a game could help by easing players into social engagement.
“In the beginning, players might only need to communicate with a person through text, but as the game reaches a higher level, they may have to actually be physically close to other players to collaborate and win,” he said. “The game provides a context in which interacting with others might be easier than walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation from the get-go.”
There’s certainly precedent for using game-like technology to help people through social anxiety. Way back in 2003, researchers were exploring the possibilities of using virtual reality exposure therapy to decrease social phobias and anxiety. MMORPGs have also been shown to be effective at helping players work through anxiety in some scenarios. And of course, Dungeons & Dragons has been used to help teach social skills and encourage social activity for anxious players.
So if you’re a Pokémon Go player with social anxiety, never fear: the UBC study just means that you’re playing on a higher difficulty mode. If you want to be the very best, you might need to level up your social skills — and there are trainers out there who can help!