Location-based mobile games like Pokémon Go may help alleviate depression

Playing location-based games, such as the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go, may alleviate non-clinical forms of mild depression, a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found.

In the new studypublished this week in the Journal of Management Information Systems, the researchers examined the effect of location-based mobile gaming on local depression trends.

Location-based games are those that revolve and progress around a player’s physical location. This is often monitored using GPS technology.

Using the introduction of Pokémon Go as a case study, the researchers exploited the staggered release of the game over 50 weeks in 2016 into 166 regions in 12 English-speaking countries. This created a natural “control” group of locations where the game had not yet been released enabling the researchers to compare depression levels in these locations with areas where it was available.

The authors measured local depression levels using Google Trends data to calculate internet searches for depression related terms such as “depression”, “stress” and “anxiety”. The use of internet search data is a well-established mechanism for measuring mild depression in medical and public health literature.

They found the release of Pokémon Go was associated with a significant short-term decrease in depression-related internet searches, suggesting location-based mobile games may decrease the prevalence of local rates of depression.

The authors argue that playing location-based games may alleviate mild depression in users as they encourage outdoor physical activity, face-to-face socialization and exposure to nature. Factors which have all been documented as having a positive impact on mental health.

These findings underscore the mental health opportunities of location-based games and highlight how they can be designed to help vulnerable groups. Due to their ease of use, relatively low cost and high accessibility, the researchers argue location-based games could be attractive subsidy targets for policymakers.

In the paper, the authors are keen to stress that their findings only relate to those suffering from non-clinical forms of mild depression and not those suffering with chronic or severe depressive disorders.

Commenting on the findings, co-author Dr Aaron Cheng from the Department of Management at LSE said: “With the uncertainty we are facing every day, mental health plays a vital role in our personal and professional life. Location-based mobile games like Pokémon 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.”

For a copy of the open access article, please visit: https://doi.org/10.1080/07421222.2021.2023407

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