How playing "Pokémon Go" lessened my anxiety and improved my friendships
If you’ve met me, you know one thing is true: I’m not a gamer. But not as many people can guess that I’m painfully shy and anxious. Basically every single article on the Internet that explains the life of an introvert-extrovert describes me in a nutshell — from the outgoing personality to the hours of alone time required to recover from those social interactions. Because I’ve got these different sides of my personality, I sometimes feel a bit misunderstood — and I know I’m not alone in those feelings.
Recently, a game was released worldwide called Pokémon Go. You may have heard of it because basically everyone is playing it.
Canada didn’t have access to the game as immediately as other parts of the world — but now we do. And oddly enough, I am playing it — and between you and me — I kind of love it. My partner thought that I’d be super into Pokémon Go and it would be a game that we could play together. While I didn’t think much of it at the time, as I downloaded the game onto my iPhone, I immediately developed some serious thoughts, feelings and emotions for it. Who knew?
Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: did she fall in love with a Snorlax? The short answer is yes, I did — but only in mind and spirit.
But in all seriousness, the virtual reality game connected me to other users in my neighborhood and helped me to more quickly break down those weird, anxious barriers that prevent me from connecting with other people on a daily basis.
The game provided me with ways to interact with others that I’d never imagined.
Take my morning ritual: I wake up and walk to my local coffee shop. As I head down the street, I hear the Pokémon Go walking music coming in the opposite direction. When I look up, another person who lives in the neighborhood is catching some Pokémon and shuffling off to their next destination. Thanks to Pokémon Go, I look at my fellow Pokémon Go trainer (quite sheepishly at first), and offer a huge smile. We don’t have to say anything — with our smiles alone, we’ve shared our awesomeness.
Yes, in that moment, two perfect strangers were allowed to be human and connect over something as simple as Pokémon Go, really without even uttering a word. Normally, I’d ignore these small interactions with strangers on the street — but thanks to Pokémon Go, I want to say hi. I want to connect with those walking by and playing the game. It’s interesting to see how much this game is bringing community together, one Drowzee at a time.
But beyond the casual encounters provided by the game, Pokémon Go has truly brought me a lot closer to my friends.
I struggle with anxiety when I’m uncertain if or when friends want to hang out. The game has given me purpose and initiative to make plans with friends. So many of my friends were also playing the game, and planning out extensive trips to random parts of the city to find rare Pokémon. As I had fun with my friends outside, it felt like my social anxiety woes started melting away — not completely, but they were subsiding.
In the game, I was able to go outdoors and engage with peers who shared a common interest, and in this, I found a new community.
Pokémon Go made me feel comfortable and welcomed. Now, I’m not saying the game is a cure-all — but I am saying the way it has improved my anxiety and depression is quite incredible. And I’m sure that it also helps those without mental health issues create healthier habits and practice better self-care.
When I went Pokémon hunting with my friend Vanessa, she told me that game similar affected her. She explained to me that last year, she was feeling extremely anxious, but then as soon as she started using her FitBit and going out to play Pokémon Go, she isn’t nearly as anxious. My Poké-hunting buddy, Tina, told me a similar story. Tina doesn’t go out as often, but now when she does, it is more often in the company of others. She intentionally uses Pokémon Go as a social tool.
When you’re anxious (socially or otherwise), you spend a lot of time in your head — thinking and overthinking. Pokémon Go is mindless fun that lets you (gasp) stop thinking for a moment and enjoy the company of others. You allow yourself to really take up space, free of distractions, and flick the occasional Pokéball.
A few days ago, I got invited to a Pokémon Go community event down at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto; trainers can go and catch a bunch of the rarest water Pokémon. My partner and I went — there were hundred of people, it was intense. But then I realized — this is community and these are new friends. While I’m pretty certain that the developers of Pokémon Go didn’t mean to create a mental health gaming app, I’m mostly thankful that they managed to do so. For me, the effects have been only positive, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.