“...I’d frequently run into this group of Agents at portal farming events and we became friends. I haven’t really had many friends, man. I wasn’t used to being around people.” Zoalkap stretched his arms, pointing at the 40 or so people in the bar, and continued with tears in his eyes, “These people are my family now. You guys have given me a family.”
I remember that moment vividly and still feel emotion swell within me as I type. It was May 2013, and I was helping run our early set of Ingress events in San Francisco (this one was Operation Bowstring), where a few hundred Ingress Agents got together to explore the city and capture territory for their factions. As I was interviewing players at the after-party to learn how we could improve our game experience, I stumbled upon Zoalkap (modified game codename to protect privacy; quoted above), a young player from San Jose, Calif., who met a group of people through Ingress and shared his story with me. Before becoming part of this real-world gaming adventure, Zoalkap had been a self-professed introvert who struggled with anxiety and depression. Through socializing with other Ingress Agents, he made close friendships that altered the course of his life for the better.
Over the years, we’ve heard from many Niantic explorers about the positive impact our games have had on their lives -- reduced cases of agoraphobia, anxiety or depression, weight loss, making new friends, or bonding with family outdoors. We always knew that a walk in the park can get endorphins flowing and cheer someone up, and it’s been incredible to see our games play a role in helping amplify that simple activity and the benefits that follow. We’ve also seen several forms of community-based activism by our explorers, such as blood donation drives, beach clean ups, toy donation drives, and more.
These and many other “side effects” of real-world games have been primarily anecdotal. While there’s limited research on the subject, we’ve seen several studies in journals such as American Journal of Public Health, Psychiatry Research, Sage Journals, and Journal of the American Heart Association providing early empirical evidence about the positive impact of Niantic games on players.
We believe there’s much more to uncover here and that’s why today, we’re excited to unveil the Niantic x RIT Geo Games and Media Research Lab. In partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, we’ve established this lab which will reside at their Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, with the mission of advancing academic research in the area of location-based games, and studying their impact on people and culture. This work has the potential to influence the design of future Niantic game experiences with the ultimate goal of amplifying the positive impact our games offer to the global community. We’re committed to bringing onboard a diverse group of researchers, with special consideration given to underrepresented groups, including black, indigenous, people of color, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ and first-generation students.
–Archit Bhargava, Director of Worldwide Product Marketing, Niantic