Staff Columnist

Good news on gaming, ladies

Researchers link Pokemon Go play with well-being

Gamers play Pokemon Go on their smartphones in this file photo. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/TNS)
Gamers play Pokemon Go on their smartphones in this file photo. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/TNS)

Forget what you thought you knew about video games and well-being because research is piling up and pointing to new health and mental health benefits from some gaming, especially for young women.

The studies focus on Pokemon Go, which is an augmented reality game played on smartphones. Players join one of three teams, collect supplies at real-world locations and use those supplies to catch and battle with fictional characters, which are also distributed by the game at various real-world locations. So, playing the game forces users to interact with their communities and, in the case of the most powerful characters, work together.

Since Pokemon Go launched in the summer of 2016, users have taken to social media to report health benefits, physical and mental. A Japanese study, published last fall in the British journal Scientific Reports, showed before and after game benefits for more than 2,500 workers, ranging age 20 to 79. The workers answered questionnaires regarding their level of work-related stress in the months before the game was released, and repeated the survey roughly six months after they began to play the game. Excluding other influences, researchers concluded that about 10 percent of the workers who had played the game for a month or longer reported less overall stress.

The latest study, presented in May at an annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, examined whether use of the game resulted in changes in mood and anxiety symptoms. Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario surveyed 152 Pokemon Go players — 78 percent female — who spend roughly 7 hours per week playing the game.

Within this group, 85 percent spoke to more unfamiliar people, 76 percent spent more time with friends, 41 percent made new friends while playing, and 51 percent reported the game increased their physical activity. In addition, 29 percent reported an improved sense of well-being and 12 percent reported weight loss.

As a result, researchers are now highlighting these types of smartphone apps as a tool for mental health treatment, especially for those with depression, agoraphobia and anxiety.

And, because of the popularity of Pokemon Go — more than 20 million people in the U.S. report playing the game daily — many more augmented reality games are being developed and released. One of the most recent to the market is Jurassic World Alive, backed by Universal Studios and tech developer Ludia Inc. as a precursor to the June 22 release of the movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Dinosaurs are populated by the game into real-world locations. Players must be near these locations in order to collect the beasts’ DNA and build their own, which they can later battle.

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While no app can replace a mental health professional, researchers are hopeful game developers and psychiatrists can work together to further enhance the casual benefits of these and similar games.

Locally, Pokemon Go continues to have an active and welcoming player base. So, you still have an opportunity to get out there and try to catch them all.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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