Can augmented reality video games improve mental and physical wellbeing in during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Pokémon GO start-up screen on mobile phone
Photo credit: Pixabay / Pexels

Playing augmented reality (AR) video games that require players to exercise and explore outdoors – such as Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite – can significantly improve mental and physical health. But what about during the COVID-19 era of social restrictions? Does stalking a Pikachu! or catching the Golden Snitch in your living room have the same benefits? This question was recently addressed by PCHSS’s Dr Louise Ellis, Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite and colleagues in their study: “COVID-19 as ‘Game Changer’ for the Physical Activity and Mental Well-Being of Augmented Reality Game Players During the Pandemic: Mixed Methods Survey Study“, published in the Journal of Internet Health Research.

Their survey of over 2000 AR gamers found that playing these games continued to have a positive effect on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, those that played more also tended to exercise more. Participants also reported AR provided a much-needed distraction from uncontrollable and unpredictable real-world events.

As the authors explain:

“Used by populations under isolation and distress, these games can improve physical and mental health by providing virtual socialization, sustained exercise, temporal routine, and mental structure.”

Although more research is needed, it does seem that catching that Pokémon could be good for you.

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