Pokemon Go Ahead, Get Outside

Pokemon Go
Pokemon go helped me deal with my anxiety and depression.

Pokemon Go is a lot like the Kardashian family – whether or not you’re a fan of it, you can’t seem to avoid hearing about it. Pokemon Go has been all over the news in the past week, and for good reason; Pokemon Go took only five days to become the most downloaded mobile game in United States history. That achievement is shocking enough, but when you stop to consider that Pokemon Go also requires players to physically go outside and walk, the game’s success seems downright impossible.

Why We Play

As someone who has played Pokemon Go quite a bit in the past week, I can tell you a few reasons why people play this game. For some, it is simply a bandwagon thing; everyone else is doing it, and they want to be part of the latest trend. For others, it is a motivation to go outside and exercise, and it encourages them to do something that wouldn’t normally be a part of their day. For people like me, however, Pokemon Go offers something that our elementary school selves could only dream of: the opportunity to catch Pokemon in the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the Pokemon aren’t really there, but I know that this is as close as I’ve ever come to being a real Pokemon Trainer. Is that nerdy? Of course, but so are most of the things that I do. I write a blog, after all, so why not add one more nerdy hobby to the list? Besides, seven-year-old Donovan dreamed of having this kind of opportunity, and I feel that I owe it to him to take advantage of it.

Why I Brought It Up

So, Pokemon Go is a really cool game, but what does that have to do with depression? If you had asked me before the game had come out, I would have told you ‘nothing’, but after playing the game and interacting with fellow players, I can see that it has a lot to do with not only depression, but society as a whole.

I’ll start by explaining the depression part. My depression has been a bit of a roller coaster; sometimes I’m slowly but surely going up, and other times I’m rushing downwards at an overwhelming speed. For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a downhill, and while I’m a bit more used to it now, the sudden loss of progress still grated on my nerves. For most of the summer I had been improving; I was sleeping better, and I was riding my bike for miles each day to get exercise. Those lifestyle changes were helping to keep my mood steady and preventing my depression from dominating my thoughts. I was happy.

Then something changed. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly everything sucked again. I felt inexplicably awful, and my anxiety came back with renewed force. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t exercise, and I didn’t want to leave the house unless I absolutely had to. Leanne was gone on vacation, and I didn’t feel like seeing any of my friends, so for almost a week I stayed home each day, doing whatever I could to keep my mind off of my depression. I wasn’t very successful at it.

Getting a Push

About a week ago, I was laying in bed, scrolling through Twitter just to have something to do. I saw a few tweets about Pokemon Go, so I decided to look into the game in hopes of finding a new distraction. I downloaded it, unaware of how popular it had already become, figuring that I would use it to pass a few hours here and there. Little did I know how much a simple app could change things for me.

As I mentioned earlier, Pokemon Go makes you get out and walk to find Pokemon. The Pokemon are generated based on your real location, and you can walk to different landmarks called Pokestops in order to collect more supplies. I’m lucky enough to live near a park, so finding Pokemon hasn’t been hard. Getting outside for the first time in a while, on the other hand, was a lot more difficult.

Florida summers are unbearably hot, so it’s easy to use the heat as an excuse to stay inside. On that particular day though, I resigned to the fact that I was about to become completely drenched in sweat and set out on my walk anyway. I saw a few other people playing the same game, but I didn’t see anyone I knew. Pokemon Go was a fun novelty, but it certainly wasn’t going to change much for me. Then my friends started to play.

Long Time, No See

I haven’t hung out with most of my friends for quite a while. That isn’t their fault; they’re all nice, fun people, and I certainly enjoy their company, but when you’ve spent the past few months crying or twitching at random, you tend to be a bit leery of spending time with others. It was safer for me to stay at home with my parents or Leanne than it was to go out and risk embarrassing myself in front of my friends, so I did the safe thing.

When my friends started to play Pokemon Go, we all quickly realized that it would be more fun to play in groups, especially if we all joined the same team. Working together would allow us to catch Pokemon, level up, and conquer gyms much more quickly. After having the game for just one day, I was spending time with friends that I had barely talked to for months. I had been scared of being social again, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had feared. Sure, I still get anxious and depressed at times, but thanks to Pokemon Go, I’m at least trying to be friendly again, and that’s a big jump for me.

A Changing World

For me, Pokemon Go was something that I desperately needed. The game provided me a combination that had been difficult to find; it forced me to go outside and exercise, and it also provided a distraction from my anxiety and depression. That change is impressive enough on its own, but what really defies all understanding is the effect that this game is having on society.

When I would run or ride my bike on the trails at the beginning of summer, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go miles without running into a single person. The weather was certainly unforgiving, and many people had better things to do than going outside and getting all sweaty and uncomfortable. Now, each time I ride I see an amount of people that I used to only encounter on New Year’s Day, when everyone is making their usually ill-fated attempts at a New Year’s resolution. I’m talking hundreds here, and that’s just on the course I ride. Most of them are concentrated in Tom Brown Park, one of the stops along my journey, and it’s an amazing sight to see.

Changing People

It’s no secret that our society has gotten to be pretty antisocial. I don’t talk to strangers unless I absolutely have to, and I know that I’m not alone in that. Pokemon Go has done yet another strange thing by facilitating interactions between people who have never met before. Usually it’s just a simple “Hey, have you found anything good?” or “What team are you on?”, but those questions are almost always received with a smile and answered politely. Everyone I’ve run into while playing this game has been incredibly nice, and in a time when violence and hatred seem to be at an all time high, the world could really use that kind of cooperation.

For me, Pokemon Go changed the way I spent my day and encouraged me to make changes that would help me better manage my depression. For society, Pokemon Go had done something much greater. It has brought people out of their homes and into the parks, forests, and beaches of the world, and they are finding not only Pokemon, but kindness and camaraderie as well. Whether you love Pokemon with a burning passion or think that this game is for giant nerds, I think we can all agree that the effect that it is having is something worth celebrating. I would love to say more, but there are Pokemon to be caught and gyms to defeat. Go Team Mystic!

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