There’s no getting away from the phenomenon that is Pokémon GO at the moment and it seems to have engulfed adults just as much as kids – if not more so. Computer game crazes are nothing new, the recent madness for Candy Crush is a perfect example, but this one seems to be generating a few concerns with its location based nature. However, some have raised the point that Pokémon GO and other games may also have benefits for kids that we can miss amid the craze.
The game itself
If you haven’t tried the game yourself yet, here’s the lowdown on what it is all about. We all remember the Pokémon games, those Japanese anime style cute characters that arrived on the scene in the 1990s? The new version is quite a bit different and makes use of the very latest augmented reality for players to ‘catch’ the Pokémon in real places around the world.
As one person said not only does it bring out the inner geek in the 20-30 age group, it gets kids out and about. No more just sitting in front of a TV screen, blasting at aliens or chasing spies, they have to go out around their area and further afield to find these Pokémon characters.
As with any craze, there have already been the stories of things going wrong. One Wyoming teenager found a dead body while questing for an elusive Pokémon while a group of trend-conscious burglars lured people to a location to rob them by tapping in on a Pokestop used by the game.
Some of the stories almost sound funny but there is a worrying undercurrent. Stories of people having car accidents while playing the game and driving, walking out into moving traffic as they aren’t concentrating and worse.
One of the biggest concerns is that while the game creates a sense of community with other players, this might be exploited by paedophiles and other criminals. Kids lose their sense of the danger of someone they don’t know when that person is playing the game and this is a big worry to parents, teachers and carers.
Another concern is that kids could be lured to locations as there is a facility on the game to let others know when there is a character to be caught. Pokémon ‘gyms’ are another phenomenon where children could be drawn in by the game and exposed to dangerous circumstances.
Less serious concerns have been expressed including the use of swearing by older players and the sexual explicit user names that some take. Even the ability to buy these lures for $1 in the app is worry for parents if parental controls aren’t in place.
The positive potential of Pokémon GO
Despite the initial concerns which tend to surface around any craze or trends, others have been quick to realise the potential plus side of the game. One school in Australia is using the game in the classroom after research showed that the game had a positive effect.
The pupils suffering with autism have been shown to have improved social skills through the use of the game and are more engaged with the rest of their lessons. The game encourages them to play with other kids in a way they would have been reluctant to do otherwise.
The nature of the augmented reality of the game also works well with the way these children’s brains work. Those with autism are very visually centred with 90% of their learning coming through what they see. In a busy classroom, these children can find it difficult to focus and learn but using visual means has a far better result.
Ideas about activities that could base around the game include using ‘walking journals’ where children follow a story or a map with the game and can improve a variety of skills including maths as well as boosting their imagination. Homework could be something like exploring their town with the game and submitted screen shots on a Monday about what they found.
While computer games as a whole are often seen as the enemy by parents and limitations on time playing is definitely a good idea, there are a surprising number of benefits that any kid can gain from game play.
Basic skills like vision and observation can be boosted by playing games. Children with ‘lazy eyes’ have been shown to improve their vision sitting close to the screen and the general ability to pick up small details and colours is enhanced.
Different games also create interests in subjects, such as history. Games set in historical period or with historical characters have created an interest in the real topic that can even lead to better exam results.
Abilities learned playing games is increasingly having practical benefits that are recognised by employers and universities. Playing online games with hundreds of other people encourages team work, communication and an increased ability to think on your feet. Even surgeons are getting better at their job due to the fine motor skills learning playing games.
Games can help people suffering from a number of conditions. Post-operative or injury pain is one example where playing a game creates a complete release and allows a relaxation that isn’t possible otherwise. Patients with MS have been shown to have improved balance after playing certain games, one of the major problems found with the condition.
As well as easing physical conditions, games can help with mental conditions. Stress relief is top of the list as well as helping suffers with depression to relax and get their mind off their problems for a period of time. Studies have even show that those with dyslexia can do more after playing games as the constantly changing environment of action games helps them to develop their focus.
So while games should be approached with caution and moderation, there is clearly benefits as well as problems that Pokémon GO and many other game crazes can help.