The wave of “Pokémon Go” mania that has gripped the nation since the mobile app was released July 6 has inspired some to claim the game can improve mental health and get Americans exercising.
But experts caution that will happen only if players “catch ’em all” in a safe manner.
The augmented-reality game, which has racked up more than 15 million downloads, allows users to “catch” “Pokémon” characters by walking around while the app tracks their movements on a virtual map. The app has encouraged many gamers to get out of the house and walk in search of new characters to catch.
Buzzfeed compiled data from fitness trackers that suggests the app has increased exercise, and some players have even tweeted that, by forcing them to be more active, the game was good for their mental health. But experts say it also could encourage some unhealthy behaviors. After all, millions of people walking around entranced by their phone screens instead of looking where they’re going carries the potential for a lot of mishaps.
It’s possible that gamers could play too long without sleep or hydration, or even become distracted from driving, walking and other important activities because of the app.
None of those scenarios are good for physical or mental health, said Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh, a Harvard-trained expert on the use of technology and mental health and a director at Brain Power, a company developing an augmented reality app to help autistic individuals teach themselves life skills.
It’s good that some people feel the game helps them improve their mental health, Vahabzadeh said, but it’s also important to consider that overplaying could be particularly problematic for individuals with more severe illnesses, who could become unhealthily engrossed in the game.
“Exercise and socialization in general are very positive for mental health,” Vahabzadeh said. “But we need to make sure they are done appropriately and safely.”