Based on recent research by Michael Van Ameringen, MD, and colleagues from McMaster University, presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in New York City, playing Pokemon Go has its own potential therapeutic benefits.
Pokemon Go is one of the best mobile games to date, with over 750 million downloads and estimated user base up to 45 million.
The data collected from Michael Van Ameringen shows that 33% (n = 50) of those using the app reported changes in their social behaviors since they began playing the game. Of that group, 85% reported speaking to more people they were unfamiliar with, 76% spent increased time with friends, 41% made new friends, and 51% reported increasing their physical activity (12% reported weight loss).
This analysis was made on 152 Pokemon Go players who are playing the game for an average of 7h per week.
“This type of gaming technology should be harnessed as a tool for engagement in a population which is historically difficult to engage in behavioral treatments for depression and anxiety disorders,” said Van Ameringen.
The participants with a history of treatment for mental health conditions spent more time playing than their peers without previous mental health treatment. An improved sense of well-being was reported by 29% of participants.
Anecdotally, there have been reports of the potential benefits that appeared as early as a few months after the app launched.
“I see Pokemon Go being useful with my socially anxious and agoraphobic patients in 2 ways,” Kara Fitzpatrick, PhD, an associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in 2016 about the game. “It really gives them a set of tools and reasons to meet people. It is a naturally structured experiment where it draws people in to connect and is partially reinforcing, which is the best mechanism for rewarding behavior.”
Fitzpatrick also noted that those that are “normally focused on their internal experience to focus attention away to their external experience” when they play the game.
Van Ameringen and colleagues concluded that playing Pokemon Go was associated with increases in physical activity and social behavior as well as an improved sense of well-being, highlighting its potential as a behavioral activation and exposure tool for mental health treatment.