May 31, 2021 — 12.31pm
Mobile phone that involve players going outside had a positive impact on the mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic, an international survey of players has found.
The survey of players of two augmented reality games, Pokemon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, found they still spent about 6.5 hours gaming a week during lockdowns - compared to 7.5 hours a week before the pandemic.
Pokemon GO player Nelson Cheng and researcher Kathleen Yin at St Mary’s Cathederal in Sydney’s CBD. Credit:Jessica Hromas
Kathleen Yin, research fellow at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University, said the games were “a tool for good” that helped keep people fit and sane during lockdown.
“People also said that games offered a lot for them mentally, with the phrase ‘the game kept me sane’ coming up again and again without any prompts,” she said. “It was definitely a startling revelation that showed how video games managed to be a tool for good in 2020.”
Dr Yin said the design of the games encouraged physical exercise, as well as social interaction, which was limited for many people during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“These games require you to be at specific locations and to walk over a specified distance every week in order to progress, to find items, or to obtain pokemons,” she said.
The 2000 people surveyed ranged in age from 18 to 55 years from more than 60 countries who chased characters called pokemon or snitches and werewolves from the imaginary world of the Harry Potter books and movies.
Nelson Cheng played Pokemon Go daily during last year’s lockdown and said checking up on his friends online, sending gifts and feeding his Pokemon “became a regular daily habit to pass the day and forget a bit more about the world”.
Mr Cheng said COVID-19 “definitely did a number to my mental health” last year, but gaming was opportunity to socialise by joining other players in a remote raid to discover Pokemon.
“I had been playing since the release in 2016 and with gameplay updated to be more lockdown friendly meant it was one thing pre-COVID-19 I could still continue with,” he said.
Dr Yin said the findings, reported by Macquarie University’s The Lighthouse, were part of her research on how video games can improve mental health.
“Many of our respondents recognised early signs of depression or anxiety during COVID lockdown, and actively used these games to successfully mitigate against further mental health deterioration,” she said.
Dr Yin said video games motivate players by encouraging autonomy, competence and community: “We think those factors could be used to help isolated folks and complement existing mental health therapy,” she said.
Dr Yin said players may become addicted to video games, “not because video games are bad, but because they are in a situation where they desperately need psychological affirmation”.
“A well-designed game can effectively influence people’s attitudes and actions for the better, and I hope to continue utilising video game’s power to motivate positive behaviours in my future work,” she said.