The number one downloaded app in the U.S., Pokémon Go is the latest mobile game craze, but could this app be a tool various therapists can use for treatment?
If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go, I’m not sure where you’ve been hiding. The game is the latest smartphone app craze that uses GPS and augmented reality to catch Pokémon in real time. Within a few days of its release in the United States, it was the number one downloaded app. It easily eclipsed the daily number of users of apps like Twitter and Tinder.
Many people have reported on the physical benefits of the game. Users have reported walking miles looking for Pikachu or other favorite virtual creatures. It almost seems as if the app is a fitness app in disguise. But there are even more health benefits the app offers.
Using Pokémon Go in Therapeutic Settings
Occupational therapists are praising the game as an accidental therapy tool. Occupational therapists are using the game with patients claiming that it helps with hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, social skills and more.
In Oklahoma, the Easter Seals Oklahoma Occupational Therapists are using the popular phone app to help their patients with spatial awareness, visual perception, following directions and taking turns with peers. They have invited Pokémon Go players to schedule a tour of their facility while playing the game.
Health care professionals aren’t the only ones praising the game for its positive health benefits. Users all over are reporting how the app has significantly helped them with their depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and more. Some users have explained how this game has changed their lives.
How Pokémon Go Differs
Typically when using a game as a treatment, there are many disadvantages that may keep doctors from supporting their use in therapy. Most games encourage further social isolation, obesity, ADHD, depression, learning problems and more.
The app actually reduces the negative symptoms that are generally associated with gaming as a therapy. Pokémon Go differs from other games greatly because it greatly increases socialization and physical activity. The app cannot be played from your couch, forcing people to be active and get outdoors. Users are much more likely to be social, and depending on where they are playing the game they are learning new things.
Children with autism tend to use technology more than those without the condition, but they spend less social time with their peers. Pokémon Go allows these kids to still use technology, which they are familiar with, and also encourages them to be social with other peers using the app.
A concept in cognitive behavioral therapy is behavioral activation. It is the idea that if you experience positive rewards of healthy behaviors, then you are more likely pursue further healthy behaviors. The game is motivation for people to get outside and join the fun. The attainable goals keep users coming back for more.
The game is easy to play and has a clear structure. Because the game structure utilizes immediate feedback and incremental goals, it helps keep people, especially those with depression, engaged.
Easing Social Anxiety
As the most-downloaded app in the United States, you can walk around most any town and see hoards of people, young and old, focused on catching the creatures. Social anxiety and depression can make people feel isolated and uncomfortable interacting with other people.
Because this is such a popular game, it is a great conversation starter for those that would otherwise never talk to people they do not know. Users can play by themselves of course, but with so many other people occupying the same spaces they are visiting, players are challenging themselves to be more social. Look at some of the tweets from people who have been helped by Pokémon Go:
Look at some of the tweets from people who have been helped by Pokémon Go:
Kinda weird to say this but #PokemonGO actually helped me a little w/ my depression. I made new friends in the city today ☺️
— deathnøte ☠️ (@Cigarosycerveza) July 16, 2016
I literally do not care if you don't like #PokemonGo . I like it, it helps my depression/anxiety & gets me exercising. My joy > your disdain
— 🦄Rhi 🦄 (@iammaredhead) July 14, 2016
me before pokemon go: * has intense anxiety walking alone *
me now: *doesnt fear death , would do anything to catch em all*
— Lia ☿️ (@theothersappho) July 15, 2016
Going the Distance
There is a particular feature that specifically points to the encouragement of increasing users’ physical activity. To hatch an egg in the game, you must walk (not drive) a distance of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). People can play the game without focusing on losing weight or burning calories.
Physical exercise is conducive to aid depression and overall health, so people with all types of conditions are able to benefit from this app.
Engaging with the Community
In the game, there are tons of Pokéstops in different places in the neighborhood. These stops may be at museums, sculptures, murals or buildings. Users visit these stops for free Pokéballs or eggs, and typically will include a brief description of the stop.
Many businesses have reported increases in business due to the game. Some businesses are creating Pokémon-themed products to lure in customers, while others are offering discounts on their products if users show the app. Users are finding places in their communities that they didn’t even know existed.
“Catching Them All”
It’s pretty safe to say that Pokémon Go was not created with the intention of aiding depression, easing social anxiety, or starting a fitness movement. However, other healthcare inventions were also accidental like penicillin, nitrous oxide, and the pacemaker.
The game has created a whole new kind of gaming that other companies, including health care companies, will model. Developers will create apps that are fun and help to treat patients for a variety of ailments or conditions.