What is it about?

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 Spanish users. It is an augmented reality game, which means that it 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. The 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 their 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.

  • The main revolution is that it encourages young players to socialize in the real world in a time when more and more relationships are established virtually through social networks. The game can improve sociability of people who have difficulty engaging with others. This happens in mild cases, such as in children who are shyer than their peers or in extreme cases as in children with autism. The fact that many players gather around the «Pokestops» or «Gyms» or just walk on the street in search of more Pokemon helps them relate to each other and work together, since they share common goals.

    This is not a game that confronts people, but on the contrary, enables meetings, some as massive as the one which gathered more than 3000 players in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

    In addition, smaller children may need help from their parents, mainly when traveling to specific places to look for more Pokemon, so you can strengthen family ties by performing shared activities.

  • The gaming experience requires the use of mechanisms and personal resources which can be used to combat disorders such as depression. The fact that the aim of the game is to continue looking for Pokemon, uses interest as an anchor for the person to focus on positive aspects, rather than withdraw into his own negative thoughts.
  • In a world shocked by the rates of childhood obesity, the game requires that young people move, fighting, therefore, sedentary lifestyle. In addition, it is well known that physical exercise helps decrease stress, discomfort and depression. Being able to obtain new Pokemon, together with the physical exercise required to do so, enhance the feeling of comfort and wellbeing. The fact that the «Pokepstops» are emblematic buildings and monuments of the city also provides the player with knowledge of the place where he lives and fosters qualities such as attention, concentration, memory and a sense of belonging.
  • The fact that the game uses augmented reality can enhance creativity because it stimulates imagination and symbolic play. In addition, the thorough knowledge of all Pokemon (151 in this game, more than 700 in total) recorded in the «Pokedex» (a sort of virtual encyclopedia of Pokemon that a coach has seen and captured), their names, skills and weaknesses, favors other capabilities such as those related to memory, interest and motivation.

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.

  • Accidents of people who were playing Pokemon Go have been reported in the media. They often occur inadvertently, since the person is concentrated on the screen while searching for Pokemon and may be unable to assess the risk of everyday situations, for example, crossing the street. Sometimes accidents occur because of the lack of knowledge of the area, as the couple of Japanese tourists who entered the tunnel of La Rovira in Barcelona, prohibited to pedestrians. There is a warning made by the game neither to drive nor to enter private property, but in the end, it relies on the responsible use of each player.
  • The state of stress and anxiety is maintained throughout the game experience because it forces the player to maintain a state of constant alert, waiting for these creatures to appear. If the duration of the game is extended, this maintained activation state can cause problems in the long term such as irritability, anxiety or insomnia.
  • Some people may feel uncomfortable knowing that they are constantly located by GPS and Google services. In some countries, this system has been used to attract players to a certain area with bait (the promise of rare or exclusive Pokemon) and then steal their belongings.
  • Increased dopamine, mentioned as a beneficial effect, also can end up generating long-term dependency. By reinforcing positive and pleasurably behaviour, in this case, playing, the brain wants to repeat it more and more. Therefore, there is a risk that the person ends up suffering a video game addiction.
Sinews MTI
Instituto de Terapia Multilingüe
Psicología, Psiquiatría, Logopedia
Cita en la Clínica