Pokemon on the Go

I never thought that I would ever be commenting on a game that my kids played as children many years ago. Despite my aversion to such games and scepticism of any benefit in the past, maybe I have been too quick to judge. Is the downloadable app, Pokemon Go, actually helping improve player’s mental health and also benefiting individuals on the autism spectrum?

Pokemon on the Go

If by chance you have missed what all frenzy is about with this particular game, here is a brief synopsis. The game is a free app that’s designed to be downloaded to a smartphone. It uses GPS and the phone’s camera to direct players, called “trainers”, to the Pokemon creatures that appear to pop up in the real world. Once alerted to a location, the game requires trainers to walk to capture the creatures.

Finally, a computer game that gets players outside to use and gets them moving and getting some sunshine.

The game, has quickly become a viral social phenomenon, and many players have taken to social media to tell the world how much better they feel after spending hours walking around chasing the virtual creatures that pop up on their smartphones.

Here’s a recent example:

Pokemon on the Go - Comment

HiRez David, it turns out, is a 26-year-old year events producer for a video game company in Alpharetta, Ga. He describes himself as a “textbook introvert” who needs time to mentally psych himself up before hanging out with other people. A few years ago, he says he went through a rough patch and needed regular prescription meds to help him deal with some crippling anxiety.

So when he spent hours outside this weekend walking around and playing Pokemon Go with friends, it was definitely out of character.

“I spend more than 80% of my weekends at home, usually,” he says. “It’s really weird to think that I spent more time out of the house this weekend than I spent in the house.”

David says he spent four or five hours just meandering around a historic cemetery on Sunday, which is “800% more” exercise than he’d usually get during the day.

Mental health benefits many players are reporting aren’t surprising. Exercise has long been shown to be a mood booster. Also aside from social contact and activity—both known to increase positive mood, decrease anxiety and depression, and improve the immune system, people who go outside are exposed to sunlight and benefit from getting more Vitamin D.

Is Pokemon helping ASD individual’s socially?

A parent recently posted an interesting blog “How Pokemon Go Is Making the World Larger for My Son With Autism”.

We have gone to the same beach house rental every summer for the past six years. Every year, my now 10-year-old son Jack who has autism and anxiety hates to leave the house. He gets anxious when we do new things or go to places he hasn’t been. He could barely tolerate the beach. It is too hot, too sandy, too wet, too windy. It is sensory overload. If we can get him to go on the beach, it is short-lived and one of us has rushed to get him back to the house before or during a meltdown.

This year, the day before we were to leave, my 17-year-old daughter showed him the Pokemon Go game. He was hooked. He asked to walk up to the library, the ball field, the school. My child who hates to leave the house is asking to not only to leave it, but to walk!  I was intrigued, so he explained the app to me. This is the best app ever! The next morning when we left for vacation, there was very little stressing. It was filled with excitement and anticipation of what Pokemon we could catch along the way.

Rest stops are no longer feared with people looking at him and food he won’t eat; they are potential Pokemon catching spots. The beach was where you could catch water Pokemon, so off to the beach he went. In the process, he had fun at the beach. He built sand castles with his sister. He laughed playing in the waves. I watched as he slowly began to trust holding onto his father as he went a little further into the water.

Read the full blog at the link above.

The Downside

  • There is the danger of selective attention, or not paying attention to where you are when you’re playing.
  • With anything that is addictive, Pokemon Go can be unhealthy if it leads to new ways to procrastinate when the player should be doing something else
  • Tech savvy thieves in Missouri and Pennsylvania have reportedly exploited features of the game to lure and rob unsuspecting players.
  • While the game is designed to be played on foot, some people are doing it behind the wheel, which makes for a dangerous distraction on the road
  • The app appears susceptible to being hijacked by users who wish to harm other players and as such raises fundamental child safety concerns
  • There have been numerous accounts of children being placed in dangerous situations because of the geo-location feature – in one instance it is reported that armed robbers lured teenagers to a particular spot using the game and in another that players were taken to a sex shop
  • The game is free to download and play – but there are tempting in-app purchases available to help players reach higher levels
  • The game only works on smartphones, so parents be ready for children insisting they need a costly upgrade of their phone

Set Limits

Children will probably find a couple of Pokemon close to home, but will need to go some distance to keep finding more. Talk to children about how far you are happy for them to go while playing, and specify areas you want them to keep away from.

Keep Concentrating

You can get very immersed in the game and forget about real dangers around you. Make sure children understand road safety dangers – and make sure they concentrate near traffic and look out for physical risks, such as waterways.

Respect Boundaries

The Pokemon maps mostly follow real life pavements and paths, but in graveyards, someone’s garden or on other private property may be inappropriate. Make sure kids know where they can and can’t go.

Stranger Danger

At the moment Pokemon is a single player game, but PokeStops and gyms, and the location of the creatures themselves will bring people together to certain places in your area. Some of the strangers your children will meet will be other kids, but the game is also popular with adults so you never know who they might meet.

Theft is another risk, with reports of phones being snatched from players as they turn up at known locations in the game.

Is It Age-Appropriate?

You’ll know best whether your child is old enough to play the game and also understand the risks. Make sure younger children are accompanied by an appropriate older child or adult while playing.

Privacy Concerns

To play Pokemon GO, you’ll need an account – and the app asks for personal information, such as date of birth and email address. It is possible to opt out of some uses of this information outside of playing the game through the game’s privacy policy.

Battery Life

Playing the game uses the phone’s screen, GPS tracking and mobile data – and that runs the battery down far quicker than normal use. So if the battery runs down, kids won’t be anble get in touch with you, or you with them.

Safety First

When the game starts up the first screen warns players: Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings, especially when unfamiliar places. Playing with friends and family, and respect local laws and the locations visited.

And of course there are those like a friend of mine with his conspiracy theory!

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‘Pokemon Go’ Has People Moving and Feeling Better. Medscape  Jul 13, 2016.