Playing location-based games, such as the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go, can alleviate non-clinical forms of mild depression, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
In the new study, published this week in the Journal of Management Information Systems, researchers examined the effect of location-based mobile games on local patterns of depression.
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, researchers leveraged the game’s staggered release over 50 weeks in 2016 across 166 regions in 12 English-speaking countries. This created a natural “control” group of places where the game had not yet been released, allowing researchers to compare levels of depression in those places with areas where it was available.
The authors measured local levels of depression 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 the medical and public health literature.
They found that the release of Pokémon Go was associated with a significant short-term decrease in internet searches related to depression, suggesting that location-based mobile games may reduce the prevalence of local rates of depression.
The authors argue that playing location-based games can alleviate mild depression in users because they encourage outdoor physical activity, face-to-face socializing, and exposure to nature. Factors that have all been documented to have 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 wide accessibility, researchers say location-based games could be attractive subsidy targets for policymakers.
In the article, the authors want to stress that their findings only apply to people with nonclinical forms of mild depression and not those with chronic or severe depressive disorders.
Commenting on the findings, co-author Dr Aaron Cheng from LSE’s Department of Management said: “With the uncertainty we face every day, mental health plays a vital role in our personal and professional lives. 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 for mental health. .
For an open access copy of the article, please visit: https://doi.org/10.1080/07421222.2021.2023407