Unless you’ve been living under a rock I’m sure you’ve heard about the latest gaming trend: Pokémon Go. Plenty of people, including myself, started playing before the app was available in the UK. Following the official release of the app, its popularity has continued to grow.

For those of you who aren’t playing here’s a quick rundown of the game.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality smart phone game that uses GPS to connect the game with the real world. The app provides you with an accurate map of your current location and your avatar walks around as you do. Pokémon appear as you wander around and the aim of the game is to catch them by throwing Pokeballs. As you hunt your local area for Pokémon you can visit Pokestops and stock up on items, challenge other players in gyms and hatch Pokémon eggs.

The game encourages players to walk further in order to level up. For example, to hatch an egg you have to walk between 2-10km. The further you walk, the better the Pokémon you hatch. What’s amazing is that the game has created a real community, with players interacting in the real world as well as online. It all sounds fun but there are also some real, tangible benefits to this.

 

 

Occupational Therapists at a Florida based Veterans hospital have started using the game as part of their rehabilitation. According to them, the game helps to teach social boundaries and safety awareness. Setting out on a Pokémon hunt can also be used to teach organisational and planning skills.

There have also been a huge array of good-will stories on Facebook too. For example, Pokémon Go has been used in children’s hospitals to get kids up and moving and one mum’s Facebook post went viral after she shared how much Pokémon Go has helped her son who has Autism. The post tells of how her son not only deviated from his usually strict routine but also how he confidently interacted with strangers and even made new friends.

This is particularly relevant since it recently became known that the mastermind behind Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri is on the Autistic Spectrum himself.

Social media has been filled with memes about Pokémon Go. Whilst many are typically witty, some of them have also highlighted further benefits of the game. For example, memes showing ‘before’ and ‘after’ bodies of Pokémon Go players highlight the potential for weight loss and increased fitness players can achieve from walking and even running around all day hunting for digital critters.

Over the last few years there have been numerous pieces of research about the use of video games and virtual reality. Primack et al., (2012) reviewed 38 pieces of research on the benefits of Gaming and shows how there really is multiple benefits if implemented in productive ways.

For example, video games have been used to provide physical therapy. I’ve actually seen this myself when I was in hospital for physical rehab: one of the options the physio team had for me was Wii Fit. It’s used in order to improve balance, proprioception and concentration, plus it’s a lot more fun than 20 reps with a resistance band or sitting on a gym ball.

Games have also been used in psychological therapy and have been shown to improve people’s self-esteem, whilst some enterprising health and social care workers have also been using game technology to teach disease self-management and health education for conditions like diabetes.

Speaking from personal experience, I can definitely say that games can provide distraction from pain, both chronic and acute. One of the papers Primack et al., (2012) reviewed researched the uses of games to distract children whilst they have cannulas and IVs put in place. This reminds me of a fabulously creative tweet I spotted…

 

 

Possibly the most impressive use of gaming and VR is by medical professionals themselves. For instance, game based tech has been used for skills training with surgeons learning endoscopy work by using games. Pretty cool huh?

Despite this abundance of positives, there are a few issues when it comes to Pokémon specifically. Take for instance the fact that a lot of potential Pokémon trainers aren’t very impressed with the game’s lack of access features. Besides the fairly obvious mobility issue for those of us who spend a lot of time at home, there are also big issues for visually impaired players and those with poor dexterity who struggle to throw the Pokeballs.

 

Naturally, since people are amazingly creative there are a few solutions… 

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