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Person's hand holding a smartphone with Pokemon Go on the screen

What you didn’t know about Pokémon GO and disability

August 10, 2016

Just when you thought Pokémon had seen its heyday, it’s back with a vengeance.

It seems that all people can talk about at the moment is Pokémon GO which has swept up the world in a Pokémon-obsessed frenzy, some 20 years on from when the Japanese cartoon first launched.

Like most popular trends, our first instinct is to weigh it up. Is it good for us? Is it bad for us? Is Pokémon GO going to save the world, or send it under?

Whilst we can’t answer that (yet), what we can say is there are certainly positives to this new fad, including for those with a disability.

What is Pokémon GO?

Pokémon GO is a like an online game of hide-and-seek, between you and a whole world of Pokémon characters.

The idea is to get out and explore the world around you. Your goal? To ‘catch ‘em all’, of course!

Using ‘augmented reality’ technology, your phone camera will reveal Pokémon right before your very eyes. And you can catch these critters by throwing Poké Balls at them!

Some areas – like your local pool, park, tennis courts, or museum may be tagged as gyms (where you can battle Pokemon with other players) or PokéStops (where you can collect supplies).

It’s an exciting game that will see you compete at real life locations, against real life opponents.

The creator of Pokémon had autism.

Here’s a little known fact: Pokémon founder Satoshi Tajiri had autism. As a child in rural Japan, Satoshi was captivated by insects, and each day set out to, well, ‘catch them all’!

As he got older, he moved on from insect collecting to arcade video games, and at this point, became involved with gaming company Nintendo. Drawing on his childhood love of collecting insects, Taijiri envisaged a game where creatures not only were collected, but put into battle against one another.

And so the Pokémon game was born.

Pokémon GO can help people with autism.

Some parents of kids with autism and other disabilities have been blown away at how Pokémon GO is helping their child. A Facebook post by one mother has gone viral after she talked about the change she had seen in her son since he started playing.

“After he caught his first one at the bakery, he was shrieking with excitement. He ran outside to catch more. A little boy saw him and recognized what he was doing. They immediately had something in common.”

“My autistic child is socialising. Talking to people. Smiling at people. Verbalizing. Participating in pragmatic speech. With total strangers. Looking up at them. Sometimes even in the eye. Laughing with them. Sharing something in common. This is AMAZING,” Lenore says.

At Aspect Hunter School in Newcastle, students with autism are actually encouraged to use the game in the classroom because the teachers have found it helps them to build social skills and their engage with their learning.

For parents however, the challenge can be keeping the virtual world out of the real one, and some level of supervision can be important here.

Pokémon GO can help people with mental illness.

Unlike your traditional video game, Pokémon GO is based on exercise, social interaction, and getting outdoors. It’s fun, it’s happy, and it sees users explore new locations they might not even know exist.

In fact, it’s these elements that have made Pokémon GO a hit with many people who have a mental illness.

It provides a motivation – and a fun one, at that! – to get outside and take up a challenge.

For those with depression or anxiety, loneliness and lethargy can be very real hurdle in the day-to-day. With Pokémon GO, the (sometimes scary) prospect of meeting new people is framed within a safe and fun environment.

Also, it encourages people to move and exercise which is known to have a positive impact on mood, and brings on endorphins… and they never go astray.

Real talk – as someone with anxiety/depression, the fact that I’ve spent most of this weekend outside with friends is unreal. #PokemonGo

— HiRez David (@uglycatlady) July 10, 2016

Pokémon GO can be hard for those with physical disabilities.

Whilst Pokémon GO has been an exciting new find for some, it has shown itself to be a frustration for others.

For those with physical disabilities, video games are often popular – in part because exploration is much easier in virtual worlds.

For those who use a wheelchair or have a physical disability, however, Pokémon GO can be a challenge. Much of the game relies on physical movement; moving around to catch Pokémon, visiting PokéStops and gyms, and hatching eggs (which takes up to a 10km walk).

Also some of the more sneaky and rare Pokémon can be in inaccessible areas such as up steep hills or stairs.

Aside from issues with exploration, even throwing Poké Balls requires some level of dexterity.

However, there is good news. The creators have brought out some devices which may help some with accessibility. For example, the Pokémon GO plus allows you to catch Pokémon by pressing a button, instead of swiping.

But for most users with a physical disability, Pokémon GO will take some serious edits before it’s able to be enjoyed fully.

Blogger Emily Coday wrote about her experience playing as a someone with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.

“The game definitely feels like it was made without people with physical disabilities in mind. Being left behind by my friends in the game is frustrating and will continue being so because the playing field is not even close to level,” says Emily.

Tips and tricks!

The internet is literally crawling with tips and tricks about becoming a PokéMaster. Here are a few safety tips from us:

  • For children, appropriate parent/caregiver supervision is recommended.
  • Stay aware of surroundings while playing.
  • Be aware unsupervised users may be drawn to catch Pokémon near bodies of water, private property, or restricted areas posing a danger.
  • The app may draw strangers together in real life at ‘PokéStops’. Teach users to be cautious of being lured into a bad situation.
  • Do not drive or ride bikes, skateboards, or any other devices while playing.
  • Consider playing in pairs or as a group in well-lit areas.
  • Make sure you read and understand the terms and conditions – including how the game can access your personal data.

Be safe, have fun, and good luck catching ‘em all!