Compared to the hand-held and on-screen gaming options that typically attract fans of Nintendo's "Pokemon," "Pokemon Go" is a healthy craze sweeping the country.
The new app, which seemed to capture the attention of the entire United States in just one weekend, is available for download on iOS and Android devices. Using the map and clock features on smart phones, the app combines physical aspects of the real world with the virtual world of Pokemon.
The combination of reality and virtual reality make this app a healthier option for video game lovers. While Nintendo games of the past kept fans inside by the light of television and computer screens, the new app takes gamers into parks, streets and other outdoor locations.
Sarah Jeoung, a Poynter Journalism Fellow at Yale University, wrote in an article for The New York Times: “I’ve never spent as much time outside as I did last weekend, as evidenced by my first sunburn in years. I was playing Pokemon Go.”
Sarah’s experience is not unique. Historic landmarks, state parks and reservations have seen an upshot in young visitors because the game offers players the opportunity to “catch” rare Pokemon.
Once users are outside, they cannot stop in one location. Pokemon characters are spread out across the country in many different locations, which gets app users on their feet and on the move.
When gamers are in waterside locations, such as beaches or lakes, water-related Pokemon characters are likely to appear. In forests, bug-like creatures may appear. Players must visit a variety of places to catch a varied team of Pokemon to store in their arsenals for battle.
Battles present the next benefit of the "Pokemon Go" app. In order to play, gamers have to meet each other to battle the Pokemon. These battles take place at designated “gyms” or locations designated as “PokeStops” by the app.
Not only does the app lure users into the great outdoors, but it also forces face-to-face interactions with other users to occur.
Experts at VideoGameAddiction.org warn that heightened use of video games can have negative effects on a child’s social skills. Children and adults who regularly engage in video game playing may have a more difficult time engaging in natural conversation than individuals who spend time engaging in other activities do.
Perhaps "Pokemon Go" is a solution to this problem. The virtual reality app combines a love of fiction and fantasy with the social interaction and natural movement of the real world.
Users are reporting mental health benefits from the app as well. Buzzfeed recently showcased an extensive list of individuals who have used the game to combat anxiety and depression. From offering motivation to get out of bed in the morning to stimulating conversations with others, the app has been beneficial for many users.
The mental health benefits are not surprising. A study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences reports that 90 minutes of walking outside significantly decreases negative thoughts in humans. An hour and a half of catching and battling Pokemon characters would fly by for most users, given the level of addiction that the app has spurred already.
"Pokemon Go" is a healthy alternative to other video games and clearly offers health benefits beyond what any recent technological craze has been able to accomplish. Hopefully, this reality and virtual gaming blend represents a positive change in the future of video gaming.