For a while, I’ve wanted to write a blog about the way Pokemon Go affects mental health. This seems like the perfect day to do it and that’s because today, 27th February, is Pokemon Day.
You might wonder what Pokemon Day is or what it means and why it is celebrated on 27th February. It’s essentially a day that pays homage to the Pokemon franchise and it’s on 27th February because on that day in 1996, Pokemon Red and Green were released in Japan. Yes, it’s been around for that long. It still feels like something new to me, but I suppose to kids who have grown up with the game being around for their whole lives, it will feel like it’s been around forever.
I wasn’t a Pokemon fan until 2016 when Pokemon Go was released. Until then, the game and characters weren’t even on my radar. I downloaded the game through curiosity – basically because everyone was talking about it and I have major FOMO. Two and a half years later, I’m still playing. It’s had a really profound effect on my life and mental health and it might sound hyperbolic to say that about a game on your phone, but, for the reasons I’m going to share below, it is true.
It gives me exercise
There are countless studies on the effects of exercise on mental health conditions. For me, it’s particularly important because I have a lot of nervous energy, which I find can back up and cause problems if I’m not active.
In November 2014 I injured my back and as a result became much less active. I have always enjoyed working out and aerobic exercise but I suddenly found myself in a situation where I couldn’t do that any more. Every movement, and even just sitting still, was excruciatingly painful. My doctor just told me to keep active but as anyone who has had extreme pain will tell you, that’s difficult to do when you’re sore. I got trapped in the frustrating cycle of trying to find someone who understood how much pain I was in and how debilitating that was. The problem is, when you’re pushing yourself harder and harder to keep moving and keep smiling through the pain, nobody understands. They just see the smile, not realising how difficult that smile was to create.
Pokemon Go was the one thing that kept me moving. I took a break from the game during the worst of the pain but during the last year, when I’ve been getting stronger and working towards becoming fitter than ever before (it’s a slow process), Pokemon Go has been vitally important. It makes me walk on days when I otherwise can’t be bothered. The game keeps me moving.
Fresh air and nature
You can’t underestimate the power of being outdoors. Firstly, let me clear something up. I am not an outdoor person. I once went glamping, which is the more glamorous version of camping where you have an actual bed, carpets in the tent, a wood burning stove and a kitchen area inside the huge tent, and I couldn’t even handle that. I like my home comforts and my idea of roughing it is a 3 star hotel. I make no apologies for that. However, being outside is just magic.
Niantic, who are the driving force behind Pokemon Go, organise something called “Community Day” every month. It’s a three-hour window on either a Saturday or a Sunday where the spotlight falls on one particular Pokemon. Special versions of that Pokemon called “Shiny” are more plentiful that day and the monsters appear more often. There are sometimes other benefits on that day too, like special research tasks you can complete, Pokemon eggs hatching quicker and items called Lure Modules, which can be used in designated locations to entice Pokemons to appear more often in that area, will last for three hours rather than the usual thirty minutes.
Because of Community Day, I’ve found myself outside in snow, rain, wind and occasionally, blazing sun. I would probably not have gone out in those weathers, had it not been for Community Day. But even at other times, when there aren’t any special events, I can’t count the amount of times when I’ve gone out for a walk, simply to hatch an egg, attempt a raid or catch a Pokemon I don’t already have and then looked around the at the countryside and wondered why I wasn’t already out there.
Common Ground With My Son
I’ve discussed before the fact that my son has autism, but those who don’t live with a person who is on the spectrum won’t realise that sometimes, even the simplest things that other parents take for granted, like going for a walk, can be challenging for us. As Luke has gotten older, and his verbal communication has improved drastically, he’s been able to articulate exactly why going out for a walk is such a problem. There’s no reason for it.
Yes, that’s right. Why are we going for a walk? And I’ll say to him that we’re just going to spend time together, or get fresh air, or exercise. But, he will counter, we can get exercise in the garden, as well as fresh air, and we can spend time together anywhere. So why do we have to go for that walk? Telling him that just being in a particular place is the reason, isn’t good enough. He can’t understand. If you add a Pokemon hunt into the discussion, it adds a reason, a goal and an accomplishment. Suddenly, he’s excited about going for walks and even suggesting them himself.
The world is full of people who will criticise the use of screen time as a parenting tool and I’m fully on board with that. But I believe in everything in moderation and there are certain tools we can use, at the right time. Luke loves to talk about the Pokemons we’ve caught and knows where all the Pokestops are where we live. When the game first launched, those simple discussions were so exciting. He was having two-way conversations rather than just repeating things! As time has passed, he’s shown us what an excellent memory and imagination he has too because sometimes he will act out a battle scene between two Pokemons or add voices to the raids.
Haters gonna hate, but yes, I encourage my son to play this particular video game for the reasons listed above.
The Social Aspects
When Pokemon Go first launched, there was no social aspect, except telling other people what you caught and hearing what they had caught. You might have taken a look at each other’s Pokedex to compare which ones you did and didn’t have. About a year into the game, raids were introduced. This means you have to team up with other players and play together in a designated location to defeat a raid boss, which is simply a huge bugger who is much stronger than the average Pokemon of its kind. You can some of these raids solo, but you only get the Legendary Pokemons if you team up with six or seven other players, minimum.
Last year, I started meeting a lot of new people thanks to the game. I met a guy called Kevin online, who was coming over to Scotland with his family on holiday. He was paying a visit to a Masonic Lodge in Kilwinning, which is quite near me, and he wanted to trade a Tauros with as many Scottish players as possible. For those who don’t know, Tauros is a Pokemon that only usually appears in North America, so for someone like me, who has only ever been to Europe and Africa, and has hardly been anywhere since I started playing this game, this was a really big deal. There are also benefits for Kevin in doing that because he can earn a Pilot badge for trading Pokemons that were caught far apart.
I also joined a local group online of Pokemon Go players and we regularly meet for bigger raids. I did wonder if they would all be kids and I would be this weird old lady who they all laughed at. WRONG! Everyone’s about my age and they’re all really nice. We all have a shared interest and a common goal and we just get it. There are a couple of other families who play, and while Luke hasn’t formed any friendships with the other kids, it does feel nice to meet groups of people who are similar to us (yes, Alex signed up for his own account last year too).
On The Worst Days…
I have to admit that there were a handful of days at the end of last year, and in January this year, when I wondered if maybe I just shouldn’t be here any more. Pokemon Go is a great self-soothing tool for me. If I feel angry, I open it up and I choose to battle a rival team in that new feature that was introduced. If I feel sad, I open the app and look at the news section to remind myself that there’s a Community Day around the corner. If I feel really bad, sometimes just looking at my Pokedex and reminding myself of “that sunny day” when I caught a Golem down at the church with my son and we high-fived makes me feel better. Or the time that I waited around the village in the snow, waiting for a snowy Castform to appear and I felt so satisfied. Or seeing all the empty spaces reminds me that I’ve gotta catch them all. That’s the whole point, right?
Pokemon Go isn’t just a game to me. It’s a self-care and self-soothing tool. So, next time you see a middle-aged woman playing Pokemon on her phone, think about the reasons why. She might be getting her daily step count completed, or trying to enjoy nature and time away from her desk. She might be planning the next conversation with a child who struggles to speak in two-way conversations or waiting for a group of friends who also play the game. She might even be trying to save her own life.
If you would like to add me as a friend on Pokemon Go (I still have 62 spaces at the time of writing), my friend code is 6646 0704 1879.