Can 'Pokemon Go' make you happier?

You’ve probably heard the stereotypes surrounding “lazy” or “antisocial” gamers.

“We think of people playing video games in their basements, and the fear with virtual reality (gaming) is that it would be more isolating,” University of Georgia psychology professor W. Keith Campbell said.

The return of a 1990s phenomenon with a makeover has many people talking about the positive social and physical aspects of gaming, however.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality mobile game that uses GPS to allow users to interact with Pokemon characters. This isn't a game that can be played by staring at a television for hours. You have to go outside and be active.

“PokeStops” and “gyms,” where users acquire the tools necessary to catch wild Pokemons and then battle them, are often located at real-life locations such as a parks, museums and cemeteries.

Being active and socializing are key factors in a person’s happiness. So, does Pokemon Go make people happier?

Tiffany Brown, 28, said she recently attended a Pokemon Go meetup with hundreds of other people in Piedmont Park. It was the first time in the seven years since she was diagnosed with PTSD and subsequently hospitalized that she was able to be around such a large crowd without being anxious.

Fellow Midtown Atlanta resident Jay Riddle has had a similar experience.

Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago, the 33-year-old said he’s felt “happy and content with life, but also anti-social.” As a part of his “new normal,” he’s realized that much of his former extroverted personality was a result of mania. Now, he said, he often dreads going out with friends.

Riddle said playing Pokemon Go, much like smoking a cigarette, can be an ice breaker and make it easier to spark a conversation with others.

During a recent trip to the Smyrna Memorial Cemetery, Riddle said he found himself engaging with a couple in their late 60s and a guy in his mid-20s for several minutes. They eventually decided to walk to a nearby Pokemon gym together.

Kieran Beckford, 21, said she never noticed Howell Park or the “beautiful” murals near her home before going outside to play Pokemon Go.

“I’ve never really gone out just to walk around,” the Atlanta resident said. “Usually, if I walk around there’s a purpose. I never really look around and try to find new places around me. I’m not familiar with my community because I’m too busy trying to get from Point A to Point B.”

Unlike other pastimes, Pokemon Go users can rid themselves of the guilt that might come from playing for hours, because of the social intersections and exercise that are incorporated.

While a game can’t be solely responsible for happiness, players seem to feel as though it has certainly helped their mood.

“I think it’s totally reasonable that people get joy out of it,” Campbell said. “(The game incorporates) the important social processes that are linked to happiness.”

Social interaction and physical exercise can both be linked to a person’s mood, he said. And Pokemon Go is fun and provides instant gratification to users for going out and working on these facets of life.

Campbell said he believes augmented reality games will continue to increase in popularity even after the Pokemon Go fad loses steam.

“In general, it really changes the way we think about gaming,” he said.

And it can put a smile on people’s faces while doing so.