“Gotta catch ’em all” is a good thing—and science is on my side

A good deal of our work in Variable involves us scouring news sites for breaking news, especially those that aren’t covered by local media. 

That said, it can be a challenging exercise to find something worth covering in a sea of stories about how COVID-19 is still raging in many parts of the world—the global caseload is now over 19 million, in case you’re wondering—or local stories that trigger all sorts of emotions.

If you’re equally affected by the scenarios above, you may want to consider downloading a game. If you’re a non-gamer, or you’re not one to invest in a console, that’s all right—you can just download Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO, the smartphone iteration of the popular Pokémon franchise, was launched by the Pokémon Company and Niantic in 2016. It has gained tremendous success around the world: Since its launch, it has over 500 million lifetime downloads and has earned over $3.6 billion dollars from player spending alone, according to Sensor Tower. Its closest challenger, Dragon Quest Walk—the closest I’ll get to being a JRPG character in real life—has just $540 million in player spending since its Japan launch in 2019.

Given these figures, it stands to reason that there’s something good about it, right? But don’t take my word for it, especially since research has shown that playing Pokémon Go can improve a person’s well-being, which is something we need these trying times.

For starters, Pokémon GO is the closest you’ll get to be Ash Ketchum (or Satoshi, for those who think I don’t know my anime), as you catch Pokémon that are mapped in real-world locations. 

A recent study by marketing researchers at Pablo de Olviade University in Spain suggests that Pokémon GO is successful because the game effectively employs the elements of uses and gratification theory (UGT). 

The working principle behind UGT is that people actively seek out the media that gratify a certain psychological need, which can range from its ability to provide knowledge (cognitive), fulfill an emotional need (affective), reaffirm their sense of self (personal integration), connect with others (social integration) and escape from the confines of reality (tension-free).

In the study, the team applied these principles to Pokémon GO. Using their own parameters, they found that the massively popular game checked all the boxes. In particular, users play (and continue to play) Pokémon GO because they enjoy the fantasy element of the game, thanks to its augmented reality interface. This gave users a way to “remove” themselves from the worries of everyday life—a concept that researchers believe is the main draw for Pokémon GO. 

Pokémon GO also improved social interaction, as players often choose the same teams as their friends. In addition, the game also allowed players to develop offline relationships (a fancier way of saying “bonds”) with their peers who also play the game.

While the researchers conducted the study to gain insights on which aspects of UGT can other online games use, using Pokémon Go as a model, it also suggests that the game can offer players a positive experience.

These findings were also echoed by a separate study, this time from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. In their report, they found that players who play Pokémon GO were more social, had a better handle on their emotions, found more meaning in their routine and were more motivated to explore their surroundings.

The team sent out questionnaires to over 200 people and stratified their answers using thematic analysis software. Based on their answers, players reported a change in behavior after playing Pokémon GO. These included an increase in social bonds, increased physical activity and lowered social barriers, to name a few.

For all it’s worth, Pokémon GO is personally a great way to escape from the harsh realities of the world, even if it’s just for a while. 

If it’s any consolation, here’s a YouTube video of the Pokémon theme sung to Coke’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”

 

Ralph Gurango

explainer | newsman | jrpg adventurer

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