Researchers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are carrying out the first academic study into the positive effects of playing Pokémon GO.
Since it was released earlier this year, the mobile game, which sees players hunt for virtual creatures in the real world, has been a sensation, being downloaded hundreds of millions of times and generating huge levels of interest across the world.
Now, two academics from DMU – themselves keen players – are carrying out research to study the positive effects the game has on the mental health of those who play it.
Dr Jess Urwin, Social Work lecturer, and Dr Catherine Flick, senior lecturer in Computing and Social Responsibility, want to explore whether playing the game – which sees players actively exploring the world around them to collect virtual creatures known as Pokémon – can help improve social skills and wellbeing.
The pair have begun sending out a survey to players, which asks whether playing the game has altered their mood, caused stress or prompted them to spend more time outdoors, or with friends.
It also looks at players’ motivations for playing to begin with and what keeps them coming back.
They are also carrying out in-person interviews with players they find using the game across Leicester.
Dr Flick said: “As we’ve been playing ourselves we have connected with a lot of online communities and found a lot of stories from people saying that playing Pokémon GO has helped them.
“People have said it got them out of the house for the first time in years; others have said it got them out chatting to people and others that it gave them a purpose when suffering from mental health difficulties and other solutions hadn't been useful.
“We felt that this was worth investigating.”
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The game’s popularity has led to criticism in the media, with stories of players being injured in accidents while their attention has been drawn to their phone screen while walking.
But Dr Urwin said the research could describe a set of benefits which might be applied to future mental health treatment.
She said: “Although Pokémon GO is clearly a piece of entertainment software it could be that the methods it uses might make the basis of a new kind of therapy tool to help people with mental health conditions.
“It’s certainly a new idea but the power of the game is obvious – it has got people out and about and meeting each other, so there are clearly lessons to be learnt from how it has achieved this.”
Posted on Wednesday 7th December 2016