My kids, along with a majority of the nation (and perhaps world) are obsessed with this new game. Being the cool mom that I am, I decided to try it out too and I can definitely see its appeal: cute(ish) little creatures that pop up that you collect and do some other stuff with... (okay, I'm not really sure what happens beyond that).
Recently, my son and I walked to a park near our house so that he could catch Pokemon and so that I could walk our dogs and make sure that he was being safe. It is surprisingly easy to get super involved in this game and forget that you're walking and that there are people and trees and cars and other things that you could potentially run into while your attention is on your phone. When we arrived at the park, there were lots of others there just like him--in twos and threes, all gathered around their phones, getting excited that "there's a Sandshrew right on your leg!"
I decided today to share my thoughts about this game from a psychological perspective.
First, the good points:
· Its getting people (lots of young kids but also lots of millennials and even Gen Xers) out of the house and into the community. Isolation is one of the main things that occurs in depression and this is a good way to combat the desire to isolate from others. Many people that struggle with anxiety struggle with even leaving the house. This can motivate them to do just that.
· Its encouraging people to walk--a lot! You have to walk in order to hatch eggs, to really get the good Pokemon, you can't just sit in your house--they're outside, and you need to replenish your supply of Pokeballs and other goodies by visiting PokeStops around mainly urban areas. Walking has been shown to be a natural form of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant!
· It brings people together. I was kind of surprised that there were so many pairs at our visit to the park. Also, for safety reasons, I recommend going with a friend or two. Our family has taken this one step further deciding to use the same account for all of us (well, my two kids mainly) so that they can help each other level up faster. Since they have different schedules and find themselves in different locations, they can really work together to find different Pokemon, share strategies, and generally help each other. Again, the tendency to isolate is curbed. The pro-social activity of teamwork is encouraged (after level 5 you join a "team"). If you do as my family has done and work together on one account, you stimulate conversation, problem solving and cooperation as you decide together which Pokemon to sell, or what to evolve or which Pokemon to battle at the gym.
· It is engaging and challenging. You need to find different Pokemon and they all have different difficulty levels so some are easier to catch than others. You are challenged to get those harder, more rare Pokemon. It will be interesting to see how long before the excitement and newness wears off. I hope, because of the benefits of playing this game, the developers will be sufficiently encouraged to keep adding new Pokemon, new things to do, and new features that will keep it exciting and fresh.
· It provides an opportunity for those not actually playing the game to support those that are. I have seen many business and religious organizations taking the opportunity that the game provides to build exposure to their business. One church I saw recently set up a cold water drink station for people visiting the Church as it was a PokeStop--it is another way to build community and help each other.
There are some not-so-good things about the game as well:
· We've already seen several instances of people taking advantage of the fact that everyone is playing this game. I've read reports of people getting robbed because they went to a place where there was a "lure"(an item that can be placed in the virtual world that increases the amount of Pokemon that will appear there) only to find, in addition to Magmar, they're finding a gun and someone ready to rob them.
· The potential for self-injury or harm coming to another via accidental means is definitely increased. Because the users attention is on the phone and not on their surroundings as much, it is possible to run into people or objects. There is a huge temptation to play the game even in unsafe circumstances like while driving. Much like penalties for texting and driving, I can already imagine new fines being put in place for "Pokemon GO and driving".
· It feels "real" but while playing, you're not really engaging in reality. Other than the PokeStops and the actual features of your particular environment, the Pokemon (the main part of the game) are not real (I know, its shocking!) and, in looking for these imaginary creatures, you could be missing out on the natural beauty that is surrounding you.
· It could compromise your privacy. If you sign in with your Google account, the app developers apparently have access to lots of your information. Who knows how they may use this information. If you sign in through the Pokemon Trainer Club, I would think most of your data will be safer but you may want to consult someone tech-savvy on this point.
· It might make you insensitive and rude. It seems the developers of the game aren't really aware of WHERE the Pokemon can pop up so they do so in places where playing is inappropriate--the Holocaust museum, Arlington National Cemetary, people's work environments, etc--so be thoughtful and don't get carried away.
I think the good stuff outweighs the bad, but obviously, you have to take some precautions with the game. Use it to motivate yourself to get out of the house and visit points of interest in your neighborhood. Use it to connect with others, form teams, and work together. Use it to motivate yourself to walk, run, skate or bike. Be aware of your surroundings and obviously don't use it while driving. Visit unfamiliar or secluded places with others and be extra aware of those around you. Finally, make sure you're playing it in appropriate locations and are being respectful to others as well as to the setting in which you're finding those Pokemon!
In all honesty, I would like to see more games like this developed. The appeal of this game is much greater for those in the younger crowd--I'd like to see an "old lady version" of the game for people like myself that really enjoy looking at the PokeStops to see what someone considers a point of interest! I'm far less concerned about catching the Pokemon but I like to see them and say "Oh! He looks grumpy! I haven't seen that one before!" I'd much rather have an app that encourages me to perhaps find something like Pokemon but instead of catching them in a Pokeball, I'm supposed to take their picture or something like that (something easier). I would like to visit the PokeStops and gyms but only to collect items that perhaps would make it easier to see rare creatures that I could take pictures of... basically I'd like to combine my favorite app, Neko Atsume, with Pokemon GO! Someone get on that!