Pokémon GO players more likely to be happy and friendly, say media researchers

A survey of hundreds of players and non-players of the augmented reality game suggests that Pokémon GO players are more likely to experience positive emotions and make friends.

Pokémon GO was one of the biggest trends of 2016. The success of the app, which was downloaded more than 650 million times, was credited with finally popularising augmented reality games. US Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both mentioned the game during their campaigns and the Pentagon allegedly cracked down on the game over fears of spying.

In the simple app game, elements of the Pokémon world are overlaid on the real world. Players must move around the real world in order to locate and catch wild Pokémon. They can then train their Pokémon and battle with other players.

While the game was credited with encouraging physical activity, it also attracted negative publicity when players were reported trespassing on private property to find Pokémon and getting into fights over the game.

“There was plenty of negative press about distracted people trespassing and running into trees or walking into the street,” said James Alex Bonus, a graduate student who was involved in the research. “But you also saw people really enjoying it, having a good time together outside.”

A group of researchers, including Professor Marie-Louise Mares, a communications scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, began to study Pokémon GO players after its release in 2016. The aim of the research was to study the effects of an augmented reality game on players.

Researchers interviewed approximately 400 people three weeks after the game was released, asking questions about the players’ social lives, emotional health and physical activity, before asking questions about Pokémon GO.

More than 40 per cent of participants revealed themselves as Pokémon GO players. These people were more likely to be exercising – or at least walking briskly – and more likely to be experiencing happiness and nostalgia.

The Pokémon games date back to 1996 and are now in their seventh generation. The most recent set of games, Pokémon Sun and Moon, were released last year.

“People told us about a variety of experiences with differential relationships to well-being,” Bonus said. “But, for the most part, the Pokémon Go players said more positive things that were making them feel their life was more worthwhile, more satisfactory and making them more resilient.”

The study – published in Media Psychology – suggested that Pokémon GO players were more likely than non-players to be making new friends and maintaining existing friendships. It also suggested that people who suffered from social anxiety were not discouraged from playing the game, despite a major part of the game involving interactions with friends and strangers.

“The more people were playing, the more they were engaging in behaviours that reflected making new connections, making Facebook friends, introducing themselves to someone new, exchanging phone numbers with someone or spending more time with old friends and learning new things about them,” Bonus said.

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