Pokemon Go Could Help With Depression

New research has revealed that playing Pokemon Go and other location-based games could alleviate non-clinical forms of mild depression and emotional distress.

In a study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), researchers looked at the effect playing location-based mobile games, such as Nintendo's Pokemon Go, had on depressive trends.

The resulting paper, published in the Journal of Management Information Systems, reveals that the release of Pokemon Go was accompanied by a significant short-term reduction in depression-related internet searches.

LSE Department of Management researcher Aaron Cheng said in a press release from the institution: "With the uncertainty, we are facing every day, mental health plays a vital role in our personal and professional life.

Pokemon Go
Players show Pokemon Go augmented-reality game at the Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower on September 8, 2016 in Paris, France. Researchers have found that playing location based names such as Pokemon Go could alleviate depression. Chesnot/GETTY

"Location-based mobile games such as Pokemon Go can help alleviate depression, as they facilitate face-to-face socialization, outdoor physical activity, and exposure to nature, all of which are essential to mental health."

The research follows previous studies that suggest location-based mobile gaming has benefits for their users' well-being, with the authors aiming to subject such anecdotal claims to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

Thus, the team writes that they explored the prospect of mobile games to alleviate depression by asking: Do location-based mobile games affect local depression trends?

To do this, the team looked at the staggered release of Pokemon Go over nearly a year in 2016 and in 166 regions in 12 English-speaking countries.

Looking at depression levels in areas in which the game had been released and compared them to those in which it was yet to go live allowed the team to chart the effect of playing the game.

As a measure of depression levels, the team used Google trends to calculate the volume of searches for terms such as "depression", "stress" and "anxiety" a method that is commonly used for measuring levels of mild depression in scientific research.

The authors suggest that this indicates location-based mobile games may decrease local rates of depression, adding this may be because playing of location-based games may encourage in-person socialization, outdoor activity, physical exercise, and exposure to nature.

The team points out that these are all factors that have been been previously linked to positive mental health effects and add that the fact location-based mobile games incorporate these features sets them aside from what the authors call "traditional gaming."

However, the authors of the paper do stress that the findings they reached relate only to non-clinical forms of mild depression, and can't really be applied to those suffering from chronic or severe depressive disorders.

The LSE researchers write: "For game developers, our work shows the benefit of game features which encourage physical activity, offline social interaction, and exposure to nature."

The team also points out that because of their ease of use, relatively low cost, and high accessibility, location-based games could be attractive subsidy targets for policymakers.

They conclude: "With the benefits from these activities, such features may help people pursue a healthy lifestyle in a proactive way to cope with depression."