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How Can Poke'mon Go Encourage and Aid Children with Autism to Socialise, Strengthen Relationships and Explore

The author is a research student who has studied the affects of Poke'mon Go with children of special needs in her bachelor degree.

Who Created Poke'mon?

In 1996, Satoshi Tajiri wanted to recreate a virtual world that was not influenced by industrial capitalism. Factories, especially in Japan, had taken over most of the agricultural land and children could not experience the ‘true outdoors’.

As a result of his childhood interests, he created a game borrowing from his own experiences as a boy, including collecting insects and crayfish and interacting with nature and society.

This game, called Pokemon, was a software game developed for Nintendo’s Game Boy System became a global success.

Gotta Catch Them All


Tajiri Felt that not only Gaming but Society in General was Leading Towards Atomism

This was due to the fact that the trend in game design has been towards greater complexity that, demanding intense concentration, pulls players into solitary engagements with their virtual game worlds.

He wanted a game that encouraged reading, organising, information gathering, as well as communication.

In an effort to promote communication, the game has been designed for adults and children as young as four to catch (at first) all 150 original Pokemon.

To catch Pokemon the player needs to either battle Pokemon found in the wild, or they can trade Pokemon they have caught with other players in their virtual world.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder known as 'Autism Spectrum Disorder' (ASD). It can typically be identified in toddlers between the ages of 18 months to 30 months due to the absence or delay in key development traits.

These include, but are not limited too, the absence of speech development, lack of interest in everyday life, and the inability to socialise.

Those diagnosed with ASD can find it difficult to communicate effectively. This is due to an inability to read social cues and can impair social interaction.
At times, people with ASD may have difficulty speaking or understanding both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication.

Those with ASD seem to lack empathy as they have difficulty noticing a change in the tone of someone’s voice or even a change in facial expression and often avoid eye contact.

To help facilitate conversation, many children with ASD develop a 'special interest area.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality allows a person to interact with the physical world where digital information has been added.

The Player's actual surroundings are viewed via the user’s smartphone or device and it is a computer-based extension of reality.

In 2016, new developments of the original Game Boy game Pokemon emerged, and in July, Pokemon Go, a location-based augmented reality game, was released.

The inbuilt GPS coordinates game-related content and players see something on their phone that in reality, is not there.

In Pokemon Go, using a handheld device such as a smartphone, players are able to search for virtual Pokemon in the real world.

Poke'mon Go Creates a New Social Community

Clinical assistant professor Dr. Hoffman who has also been identified as a Pokemon professor has advised that Pokemon Go will lead to the emergence of a new social community.

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Furthermore, due to inbuilt rewards in the game to walk 2, 5, or 10 kilometers, it is a major incentive for a low impact but sustainable exercise as the game encourages increased physical activity.

Hoffman also believes Pokemon Go to be a socialising agent for children with ASD. In another article a mother who introduced her son to the game was amazed that her autistic child was socialising.

She explains that her son was verbalising and participating in pragmatic speech and even making eye contact with strangers, something he typically had difficulty with.

You Can Find Poke'mon in the Wild


Poke'mon Go Can Help Bridge the Gap Between the Real and Virtual World

News articles have reported how parents and carers have found Pokemon Go helping autistic children develop both their social and physical skills.

Poke'mon Go was ‘bridging the gap’ between the real and virtual world, without the negative aspects of lack of exercise or cyberbullying that often happens with other virtual games.

In Henebery’s interview with Craig Smith (deputy principal of Newcastle Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism) reports that they are using Pokemon Go in the classroom as a motivational tool for social skills, health benefits as well as creative academic engagement.

Download the Poke'mon Go App on Your Smart Phone


Children With ASD Can Avoid Eye Contact With Other Players Easily Without Seeming to be Rude

Children with ASD whose special interest area is Pokemon Go will need to leave the home in order to advance in the game.

Consequently, they will meet other players who are also eager to ‘catch them all.

Importantly for children with ASD and their family or social network, rather than having a special interest that is solitary and idiosyncratic these children will meet other Pokemon Go players all with the same goal.

Furthermore, children with ASD can avoid eye contact with other players without seeming rude or unsociable and still continue talking about their special interest area due to the fact players need to engage with their device to catch Pokemon when they appear on the screen.

As a result, Pokemon Go can help children with ASD in socialising, strengthening relationships, and exploring their surroundings

Further Reading

‘What is autism?’ 2009,The Journal of practical nursing, vol. 59, issue 2, pp. 22.

Allison, Anne 2003, ‘Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Poke ́mon as Japan's new global power’ Postcolonial Studies, vol. 6, Issue 3, pp. 381-395.

Bainbridge, Jason 2014, ‘It is a Pokémon world’, The Pokémon franchise and the environment. International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.17, pp. 399-414.

Craig, Alan, 2013, Understanding augmented reality : concepts and applications, Morgan Kaufmann, Massachusetts.

Emanuel, Christina 2015, An Accidental Pokemon Expert: Contemporary Psychoanalysis on the Autism Spectrum. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, vol. 10, Issue 1, pp. 53-68.

Henebery, Brett, 2016, ‘School uses Pokemon Go to boost learning’, The Educator, 15 July, 2016, < go-to-boost-learning-219716.aspx>

Mazurek, Micah & Wenstrup, Colleen 2013, Television, Video Game and Social Media Use Among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 43, Issue, 6, pp. 1258-1271.

McCartney, Margaret 2016. Margaret McCartney: Game on for Pokémon Go. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), vol. 354, pp. i4306.

Ross, Meghan 2016, 4 Pokemon go health benefits. Pharmacy Times, vol. 354. pp. 82.

Virtue, Robert & Turton, Paul, 2016, Pokemon Go app set to help children on autism spectrum, unpaginated transcript, 1223 ABC Radio National, Newcastle, 15 July, 2016. < children-on-autism-spectrum/7632804>

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Angela Lancaster

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