Pokemon Go (Outside of Your Comfort Zone)

You would have to be living under a rock to avoid noticing the game that’s sweeping the world these days: Pokemon Go. For those of us who may not know exactly what it is, it is a game in which a person uses their phone to interact with and collect creatures from Nintendo’s popular Pokemon franchise in the real world (otherwise known as an “Augmented Reality Game”). As a player (And lifelong Pokemon fan myself), I can say that this game is a lot of fun, and a great example of positive social gaming.

When it works.
When it works.

This post is to address stories that I have read, heard, and experienced in the week since this game has been out. Namely, that people are using it to help themselves address social anxiety, depression, and loneliness.  This article from Buzzfeed was posted just days after the game’s release and contains stories of people who decided that catching them all is more important than the things that were keeping them locked in their homes.

This is what I mean when I say that this is an example of positive social gaming.  Going out on the Square in Denton, TX at 10:00 at night, I see dozens, if not hundreds of people out, talking, socializing, and working together to reach a common goal.  Shouts of “There’s a Butterfree over here!” ring out and everyone congregates.  People share stories of their Pokemon taking down a much tougher one at the gym housed at the comic book store.  There is a commonality that reaches across everyone that plays this game because, well, we’ve been waiting for it to come out since the first Pokemon games came out 20 years ago.  One of the biggest changes that Pokemon Go has brought into the world is that seeing someone staring at their phones is no longer necessarily code for asocial; they may be hunting Pokemon just like you.  This gives those of us who struggle socially a number of useful tools to work on social skills:

  1. There is already a topic of common interest.  If you have difficulty talking to new people, “What do I say?” is one of the means by which you can psych yourself out.  Knowing that you can talk to just about anyone about Pokemon Go is a wildly useful tool to have.  This goes double if you are able to learn what team they are on (Again, for the uninitiated, there are three teams: Instinct, or Yellow; Mystic, or Blue; and Valor, or Red).  There are even more instant points of contact there.
  2. There is an easy out if conversation becomes overwhelming, in that there are rewards for moving around (eggs will hatch based on how far a person walks), and if there is something other than a Rattata or a Pidgey nearby (a man can dream), you can bow out of an uncomfortable interaction by expressing that you are going to hunt something nearby.
  3. There is motivation to actually, pardon the pun, go.  A trainer won’t be able to catch all 150 Pokemon sitting on the couch at home.  This gives the person struggling with social anxiety a choice to make: Do this thing that you want to do, or let your anxiety win.  While these questions run through the mind over more critical choices (IE get a job or stay in the house; get food or stay in the house), the choice to do something fun and easy is generally a pretty low risk decision.

So there are 3 reasons why Pokemon Go is a great tool for anyone struggling with social anxiety.  As with anything, the tool that works best is the one that gets used.  And if you are not one of the millions of people playing, hopefully this will help you see that this is not just some “fad” or some “stupid thing,” but as a way for people to come together in a way that was impossible before now.

Of course, no discussion of an activity that involves going outside would be complete if there wasn’t at least a mention of potential dangers and pitfalls.  There have been plenty of stories about people who have encountered dangerous and traumatizing situations.  So please be careful and safe while you’re out playing.

What are your thoughts?  Do you play Pokemon Go?  Have you noticed any ways that it has been helpful for you personally?  Share in the comments!

Pokemon Go is made by Niantic, Inc, and Pokemon is owned by The Pokemon Company and Nintendo.

It is available for download on Google Play and the App Store.

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