IS CATCHING POKÉMON A THERAPY TO REDUCE LONLINESS?

The resurgence of Pokémon provides a fair amount of nostalgia to our entire generation. Growing up, Pokémon has been more of an obsession than merely a cartoon series to almost every 90s child across the globe. Years later, deep down there still exists a strong emotional attachment towards our most treasured Pokémon trading cards and/or video games we owned in our childhood.

For all those who may not be fully aware of what Pokémon really is (not quite possible), Pokémon is the portmanteau ofpocket monsters,” and an insanely popular franchise with a just as insanely long history. In Pokémon, monsters roam the lands, and your job is to find, capture, and train them. Then you put them in battle against other players.

After a few years lying relatively low, the Nintendo-owned Pokémon, which exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, is again taking the world by storm. This time, through Pokémon Go: the series’ biggest entry into the mobile space, now available for a free download on Android and iOS. Its immense popularity now has it competing with Twitter in terms of daily active users on Android. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality app that was released worldwide between 6th and 16th July, 2016.

Augmented reality as opposed to virtual reality does not transport you into a new space instead 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.

What is also very interesting about Pokémon Go is that there are reports about the game having positive effects on individuals.

Pokémon Go represents an interesting twist on the 18 year debate on the whether the Internet causes loneliness. In 1998, Kraut et al. published their famous “Internet Paradox” study, which found that greater use of the Internet caused an increase in loneliness. It was a paradox because socializing and communicating was one of the more important functions of the Internet. How could a partly social tool result in increased loneliness? The debate evolved as the Internet evolved and much of the studies today focus more specifically on social media.

Studies that have been conducted to determine if World of Warcraft (WoW) has an effect on loneliness have resulted in finding no significant relationship between the usage of WoW and loneliness. In a more recent study, Marton and Lokša (2015) looked at whether players felt less lonely and less socially anxious in WoW than in the real world. They received 161 responses from players of WoW (primarily male, 88%) and found that these players had less loneliness and social anxiety while they were in this virtual environment than in real life. The construct of the game somehow made socializing and interacting with one another easier than in the real world. It appears that Pokémon Go may be doing the same. (Fun fact, there exist arguments which state that Pokémon Go is a much better way to find dates than other popular apps like Tinder)

In the age-old argument of whether the Internet causes loneliness, the answers are beginning to hinge on not only how you use it, but also what you are using on the Internet. Some social media tools seem to be better at facilitating connection as compared to others.

(Sean, 2016)

Priyanka Banik

Priyanka Banik

Business Development Executive

IRIANS – The Neuroscience Institute

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