Remember last year, when Pokemon Go launched to article after article about its health benefits? People with anxiety and depression shared stories of how it gave them motivation to get out of the house, to talk to people, and to do new things.
While the initial frenzy of interest has long since worn off, plenty of people are still playing — and researchers have had time to look into the veracity of those self-reported benefits.
Happily, they hold up. A recent study in Media Psychology examined the benefits of Pokemon Go and other augmented reality games, looking at the subject from two angles. The first is the Broaden-and-Build theory, which suggests that positive emotions like joy and anticipation encourage people toward novel or exploratory thoughts and actions (feeling good leads to seeking new experiences, more or less). The second is the Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model (DSMM), which provides a framework for examining how we’re influenced by media.
Here’s Medical News Bulletin on the study’s methods:
This study took place over the course of one day, three weeks following the US release of Pokémon Go. A total of 399 American adults were recruited mostly from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, however 15 participants were recruited from a social anxiety forum, and 25 participants were recruited from an internet Pokémon fan forum. A Facebook Intensity Scale was used to assess the time and intensity of their playing. The participants filled out a variety of surveys assessing prior exposure to Pokémon, social anxiety, social pressure to play Pokémon, media influences (positive and negative), nostalgia (reverie and regret), exercise, friendship initiation and intensification, resilience, life satisfaction, loneliness, and depression.
Playing was shown to have a positive impact on mood, exercise and friendships — both new and old. Fond nostalgia, the sort that comes with happy memories, was increased.
The positive effects were less pronounced in players with social anxiety, but interestingly, nostalgic regret decreased in those participants. So while players high levels of anxiety had a harder time benefitting from the social aspects of the game (which probably isn’t a surprise for anyone with anxiety), playing it did help them feel less regret over past events.
“There’s this idea that playing games and being on your phone is a negative social experience that detracts from things, but there haven’t been many chances to ask large groups of players about their experiences,” said James Alex Bonus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student who led the study.
“The more people were playing, the more they were engaging in behaviors that reflected making new connections — making Facebook friends, introducing themselves to someone new, exchanging phone numbers with someone, or spending more time with old friends and learning new things about them.”
That’s not the only researched benefit of augmented reality games. On the medical side of things, researchers found that Pokemon Go players were twice as likely to reach their daily step goals than they were before playing the game.
But really, the important thing is that you have fun, and not just for the sake of fun alone. No one’s going to hit their step goals or make new friends playing a game that doesn’t interest them. So if you’ve put the game down, it might be worth seeing if the new raid update reignites your enjoyment — or you can wait and see if something like this augmented-reality Super Mario Brothers level ever becomes a reality.
There’s nothing like finding something you love that gets you out of the house. For some of us, that’s a pet, or a running routine. For others, it’s catching monsters that are only visible through our phones. The specifics don’t matter nearly as much as the (usually super positive) results.