What is it about? Psychiatrist Dr. Alberto Rodriguez Quiroga explains.
When the company Niantic Inc. developed “Pokemon Go”, absolutely no one could have imagined the consequences of the game. Since its launch on July 6, 2016, rivers of ink have flown, news related to the game has occupied plenty of hours of TV and everyone has the feeling that Pokemon (short term for Pocket Monsters) are almost everywhere. These virtual creatures have unique characteristics that define them and make them so coveted by players around the world. They have unique skills, but also weaknesses, so it is best to fully know each one of the 18 different species of Pokemon. For example, water Pokemon species are very effective against fire type Pokemon, but instead are weak against the electricity type. On July 15 the game became available on the smartphones of the Spanish users. It is an augmented reality game, this means that is uses GPS and Google Maps to know the player’s real position at all times. Since then, it is easy to see groups of people swirling around the "Pokestops" landmarks of the city (such as statues or monuments) where players can get, always for free, the precious "Pokeballs", which are the only tool to capture these creatures.
The game's success is that it is universal. On the one hand, it connects people in their thirties with their own childhood or adolescence, when, in the late 90s, they spent hours playing the original game. In this way it awakens pleasant memories and helps a whole generation to step out of their usual routine and return back to a time without many responsibilities in their life. Moreover, children and adolescents who might not know anything about Pokemon have also gotten on the bandwagon. In addition, unlike other games aimed at a male or female audience, the game is not specifically gender relevant. Player profile will vary from the person who has never played any Pokemon game to the one who knows every detail about these virtual beings.
What’s the game about?
The dynamics of the game are simple and based on the premise with which the saga started back in 1996: collect all of the existing Pokemon. The first generation of creatures was composed of up to 151 Pokemon, which are the exact number that can be captured to date in Pokemon Go. Then the journey was virtual and the player, represented by a character who moved through an imaginary world, on foot or by bicycle, visiting villages, roads, forests and even caves with the sole aim of capturing all the Pokemon that he could. Today, the purpose of the game is still the same, but the journey is real. To achieve the goal of capturing every Pokemon, it is not enough for the player to stand still hoping that these creatures will approach him. The game forces the person to move and scroll through various corners. Hence, related with the player’s (called Pokemon Coach) experience level, different Pokemon will appear on the map. These can be then captured by the throwing of the aforementioned "Pokeballs". The gaming experience could end here, contrary to what happened on the previous version of the late 90s, where Pokemon fights were needed to further progress in the adventure. Thus, players who do not want to be limited to collecting Pokemon, can train their creatures and prepare them for the fighting which only takes place in the so-called "Pokemon Gyms". These are special places marked on the map where a Pokemon Coach can fight for its leadership. The mechanics of combat differ from the previous versions of the game, because instead of the classic turn-based combat, the player must control their Pokemon to attack the opponent and also to avoid the blows. The game, therefore, can be extended until the player wants, because, even if he has been able to capture the 151 available Pokemon (some of them, the so-called legendary, seem very difficult to catch, mainly because of its scarcity) you can always continue capturing Pokemon you already have, as getting repeated creatures will provide you with "Pokemon Candy" with which you can level your Pokemon up.
Reasons to let my children play
So far, there is no single recommendation regarding the use of video games, mainly due to the lack of robust studies and the disparate conclusions obtained from the existing ones. An article published this year in the International Journal of Communication concludes that, compared to the use of social networks by students, those who devote the same time to play video games achieve better academic results in Mathematics and Science. These results, like those of any investigation should be interpreted cautiously and critically, but can explain that the reasonable and sensible use of video games could enhance skills and strengthen existing mechanisms that have already been achieved in class.
Regarding Pokemon Go, psychologist Wei Marlynn from Harvard University, published its scientific opinion on the game in the journal Psychology Today. The main argument used is the ability of the game to stimulate the release of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter, in brain areas that have to do with reward and mood. Dopamine is related to motivation as an essential part of behaviour, assessment of reality, planning and social behavior.
Reasons to keep my children from playing
All of the reasons that arise to prevent your child from playing Pokemon Go have to do with the mechanics of the game, which involves the need of a mobile phone with GPS and to navigate the real world staring at a screen.
Answering the question: Yes or No?
Like virtually everything in life, Pokemon Go is neither good nor bad by itself, it only depends on how people use it. Some aspects of the game can be very beneficial for children and teenagers, but they should make responsible use under the supervision of an adult. The best recommendation for a parent who has its concerns about the game is to hit the streets with his child on the search for these creatures and share a positive moment for the whole family gaining a better knowledge about the world of Pokemon.