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October 10, 2022
Take a little walk with Niantic on World Mental Health Day

New player stories and academic research point to the health benefits of gaming and playing location-based games that encourage outdoor physical activity and face-to-face socializing.

World Mental Health Day is an important opportunity to talk about our mental health, what you can do to look after it, and how important it is to get help if you are struggling.

Despite what some may think, gaming can help and be a positive for mental health. Many players believe gaming helped their mental health during pandemic lockdowns. And academic research has highlighted the positive benefits of playing location-based games alongside other treatments

“As humans, we are inherently social and have a need for social interactions, whether we are aware of it or not. Mobile games such as Pokémon GO can lead people towards healthy behaviors and have positive effects on their wellbeing,’ says Dr Tanja S. H. Wingenbach from the University of Greenwich in the UK on the findings of her recent research. “Covid-19, and the subsequent lockdowns, forced us to have less face-to-face interactions and our study highlights the importance of this type of interaction. It should really encourage players and non-players to go out and interact with others.”

In another study, Dr Aaron Cheng from the Department of Management at LSE and his co-authors found that playing location-based games may alleviate non-clinical forms of mild depression as they encourage outdoor physical activity, face-to-face socialization and exposure to nature. These are factors which have all been documented as having a positive impact on mental health.

This opportunity to connect with people outside in nature is something that sits at the heart of Niantic’s mission and games including Pokémon GO, Pikmin Bloom and Ingress: Prime. Pokémon GO players alone have explored over 28 billion kilometers and created 450 million friend connections since 2016. Yet, while the medical thinking supporting walking and its physical benefits have been widely acknowledged, less well known is how positive it can be for mental health too.

“At Niantic we believe we can use technology to lean into the ‘reality’ of augmented reality — encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us,” says John Hanke, CEO of Niantic in his blog on walking. “This is what we humans are born to do, the result of two million years of human evolution, and as a result those are the things that make us the happiest. Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not to replace them.”

The theme of 2022’s World Mental Health Day, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is to make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority. The increasing interest in gaming everywhere - we see our games played in over 150 countries worldwide - makes it a unique platform that can reach that global audience in a positive and meaningful way.

Here’s what some players and Trainers from different countries and cultures had to say on this important topic: 

“Being both autistic and epileptic, being social and physically active has been extremely difficult for me, but Pokémon GO made it easier for me to talk to people and to go outside to be motivated physically,” said Tommy, a Pokémon GO trainer in the UK. “This led to me losing 10st (64kg) in one year, a feat I didn’t think was humanly possible. I found a confidence in myself that I’d always struggled to find and I now have people in my life that I never would have had without playing the game.”

“Daily incentives in Pokémon GO have encouraged us both to commit to a healthy routine of regular 30 minute walks. It has been really positive for our general wellbeing and happiness,” said Yaaya & Ayzo (otherwise known as influencers Couple of Gaming) in Germany. “We walk together every day now and see our neighborhood and city differently, exploring new places and routes. We’re excited to visit new cities and see what the game has to offer there.” 

“Pokémon GO allows me, for a few minutes, to enjoy a relaxing moment in my own bubble and breathe. It’s a ritual as I arrive at work on foot before I actually start my day for example, or in the evening when I’m going back home to decompress while I complete the daily missions,” said Franck, a trainer from France. 

“As someone who struggles with anxiety, Pokémon GO has been amazing at getting me outside, speaking to new people, and making friends. Niantic’s response to the pandemic helped enormously, too,” said Sky, a Partnerships and Training Officer from charity Safe In Our World in the UK.

So on this World Mental Health Day, why not take a little walk with us?

Safe In Our World provides a useful directory of global helplines and support sites you can reach out to in a mental health emergency to find help here.

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