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2016-07-11

Is Pokémon GO the Solution to Social Anxiety (and Maybe All the World’s Problems)?

Image via /u/DUBLZZ
It has more active users than Instagram, Snapchat or Tinder. It’s overtaking mammoth social media apps like Twitter. It helps people with social anxiety talk with strangers. It may even lead to a reconciliation in Korea…or cause an international incident. 

In case you’ve missed the stories burning up Twitter and Facebook feeds, Pokémon GO is an augmented reality mobile game released July 6th that allows players to capture, battle, train, and trade virtual Pokémon found throughout the world. It’s not terribly different from most smartphone games: a player gets to create an avatar, consults an in-game map showing where to find perks and rewards, works to increase stats, and gets to battle other players.

But the best part about Pokémon GO is that players have to actually go out into the real world to find different Pokémon, visit Pokéstops, or battle at a Pokégyms, which are typically located at populated spots such as parks and tourist attractions, but also at restaurants, churches, and even police stations.


Augmented reality gaming isn’t new, and anyone who’s played Ingress (a game developed by Niantic, the same company that produced Pokémon GO) can tell you how much time and effort they put into capturing portals, but where Ingress was a distinctly 21st century creation, Pokémon GO is a game with roots that stretch back to the 1990s in a TV and gameplay empire that pretty much ignores cultural boundaries with a massive built-in global fan base. Take note: while Ingress is exceptionally popular, it took six months to build up 500,000 users, while Pokémon Go, according to data from SimilarWeb, captured over 3% of the U.S. Android users’ devices in its first day.

3% may not sound like much but to put it in perspective Twitter has about 3.5% of the Android share, and Pokémon GO gets more daily usage than super popular apps Instagram, and Snapchat.

Diverse Players via BroWithTheFr0
This is why your social media stream is flooded with screencaps of Pokémon in front of real-world landmarks. It's also why you've been seeing so many people outside scanning with their phones and tapping furiously on the screen. That car load of teens cruising through the neighborhood at night? Chances are they're Pokémon GO players. And the app isn’t just drawing in children; people from all walks of life—kids, adults, librarians, shop clerks, police, even the military—are actively engaged in the game.

Which is great for Nintendo’s stock, but it’s also had a positive effect on players who typically have difficulty talking with other people due to shyness or social anxiety. On Reddit’s r/socialskills (a subreddit for people who have trouble socializing) users are sharing their positive experiences with the game.

Redditor AKXC, a user with anxiety issues, started a thread encouraging people with shyness to use the game as an entry point to conversation and as a way to overcome their anxiety when meeting new people. “I found myself wandering the campus going to every stop. I then noticed a group doing the same so I went over and started talking small ‘What have yall got so far?’ etc. I ended up walking with them for hours around campus collecting pokes and made some friends.”

Another Redditor, ComputerCharger, agreed saying, “the app helped me as I'm often anxious when...walking. Now I even want to go back outside and I'm rather astonished of it”

In response to a thread about a father and son who set up a lemonade stand giving free lemonade to players, Redditor Aramarth said, “I'm a very introverted kind of guy who spent a lot of his time together with my partner sitting at home getting fat on snacks and video games. This has been a revelation; it's not only making me healthier but I'm meeting so many awesome people. It's almost a touching and emotional experience for me to break through that wall.”

While it’s great that Pokémon GO helps individuals overcome their shyness, the benefits don't stop there. The app has also led to inspiring acts of altruism such as staff at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital dropping Pokélures to attract Pokémon inside the hospitals so the kids who can’t go outside still get to play.

There are even stories of how the game is changing the character of entire communities. In one isolated military base where the daily grind is described as doing the job and returning home to play video games or watch TV day in and day out, someone dropped a Pokélure. Several service members gathered around and chased Pokémon for the evening, and at the end agreed to meet up again. The next day over 50 people turned up with their kids, pets and coolers, a turn out that even base organizers have trouble matching.

Is there a limit to how many people Pokémon GO could bring together? Is there an insurmountable obstacle? Perhaps someone is putting it to the test, as there is purportedly a Pokégym in the Korean DMZ.
Anonymized post about Pokégym in Panmunjam (maps added for reference)

4 comments:

  1. Pokemon Go would be a tangible starting point for overcoming shyness and bringing people outside of their homes but it would promote a heavily hierarchical or political flaws such as that virtual reality experience systems does that would adversely condition, especially towards younger consumers (receptive and adaptive) towards their social/ personal relationship interactions as they are only exposed to having control over a cluster of programmed pixel objects to do whatever so they pleases, to name it whatever so they please to without the need to maintain emotional, moral/ ethical respect, sensitivity or humility that will be needed to understand and interact with other social individuals, groups, animals, plants and organisms. They are factors that provides health, resources and sustenance and Pokemon Go may adversely encourage a desensitization process through one culture, group, collective, hierarchy while disregarding and adversely inflicting perhaps cruelty and ignorance to another.

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  2. Possibly, for people who are unable to separate the virtual from the reality, however I believe that imposing this conceptual structure on actual people is selling them short. Even the shyest, most anxious person can tell the difference between a Pokemon and a person.

    I take your point about younger consumers, as the corporate manipulation of any segment of society is a long-standing problem, but I believe this is actually an example of corporate manipulation that results in a net positive, rather than a negative or zero-sum outcome.

    A friend recently stated that Pokemon GO had caused him to spend over $2000. What?!? "I went out and bought a new bike and all the gear to ride safely, so I can cover more territory."

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    Replies
    1. How will and can one separate the virtual from reality when reality is something so cruel, irrational, not understandable while virtual realities made a person so much more himself/ herself in such true yet temporal, misled and naive happiness? Won't one lose trust in happiness and safety through such manipulations?

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    2. I think most people can delineate between virtual and real, but you make an excellent point about how the virtual construct can lead us to mistrust the real world and prefer the bliss of an artificial one. Unfortunately, any virtual world eventually collapses under scrutiny, or through lack of maintenance, and we're left with reality again, or perhaps migrating to a different virtual world. But I think we can use the virtual to train ourselves to better deal with the real. I'm not saying Pokemon is the ultimate solution to this problem, but it offers some examples of how the overlap between real and virtual can be useful for introducing someone who is distinctly uncomfortable with real-world interaction to an aspect of reality that fits with the aspects of a constructed world she enjoys. Sort of like gradually sinking into a hot tub and allowing yourself to get used to the temperature, rather than plunging in all at once and feeling like you're being scalded.

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