Amid all the talk about the game craze's numbers, there have also been suggestions that the app can actually help people with depression and social anxiety. While it’s too early to know whether Pokémon Go will help long-term with the treatment of anxiety or depression, the game has successfully encouraged people to go outside, walk, and interact more socially. The app has the potential to benefit people who would not otherwise be motivated or able to leave the house due to fear or anxiety.
The use of virtual and augmented reality technology in medicine to improve psychological and physical health is not new and has an emerging role in the treatment of many disorders. Virtual reality games are currently being used and researched to treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as to alleviate pain, and even to improve rehabilitation after strokes.
Augmented reality is slightly different than virtual reality because it doesn’t transport you into a new space but keeps you in the real world. Virtual objects, such as the Pokémon in this game, are blended with real objects using GPS. Augmented reality technology has been studied, though less so, as a form of exposure therapy to treat phobias, such as cockroach phobia, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been studied, in at least one case, to treat an amputee’s phantom pain, a phenomenon that occurs when a limb is severely damaged or missing. Pokémon Go harnesses the power of augmented reality in a different way by giving people incentives for people to go out and explore.
Here, then, are some of the psychological pros and cons of Pokémon Go:
The game is already getting blamed for some injuries, criticized over data privacy issues, and implicated in crimes, as a few people have used the game to lure players to locations to rob them, so it’s important to exercise appropriate caution.
Here are some of the potential psychological cons or limitations of the game:
How the pros and cons of the game weigh out over time has yet to be studied scientifically, but so far, fans of the game are out having fun and exploring. If you're finding the game to be helpful for your anxiety, depression, or stress, please share your experiences here.
Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC © 2016