The impact of Pokémon GO on our lives has been well documented. We've seen its rather troubling problems alongside its overwhelming positives; individuals have been harmed or robbed while playing, whereas others have been able to find love through their shared interests. And this dichotomy has been no more apparent than in Japan.
Japan is one of the only countries to have reported deaths linked to Pokémon GO, however, their latest story related to the mobile sensation is one of hope.
Is Pokémon GO Saving Lives In Japan?
Near Sakai in the Fukui prefecture of Japan, the Tojinbo cliffs stand over 70-feet tall. Though they have legends attached to them detailing various tumultuous and storm-causing spirits, they've become infamous for suicide attempts in recent years—about 150 deaths were recorded last year alone.
However, following the release of Pokémon GO, the cliffs and the surrounding areas have become highly populated with active trainers. With this influx of people and noise, a kind of calm has descended upon the Tojinbo cliffs.
"People who contemplate suicide tend to go to quiet places before finalizing their decision. But since Pokemon Go was released, the area [around Tojinbo] has been bustling, even late at night." - ZAM.com
Shige has been familiar with the area and its suicide attempts for many years. A retired police officer, he became frustrated in the 2000s by the inaction of local authorities. Having had to fish so many bodies from the sea while even more stood by while humans repeatedly took their own lives, he began patrolling the cliffs for potential jumpers. Volunteers soon accompanied him, and it's reported that as of 2015 they have saved over 500 lives.
Now, thanks to Pokémon GO, he feels that the growing number of crowds around the cliffs is acting as a deterrent for would-be suicides. One particular visitor spoke with Shige about their own desire to commit suicide, though the atmosphere "was not quite right" for doing for so. The Japan Times stated that the individual then left the area without making an attempt.
Pokémon GO's impact on Sakai, Japan, while limited to the game's popularity lifespan, has been a coincidental side-effect of other gamers' enjoyment. It's a strange symbiosis; one that Shige and his volunteers are very thankful for. But the health benefits of this mobile game extend far beyond mere coincidence.
Pokémon GO & How it's Helped Those With Depression
There are many ways that video games can and have aided individuals suffering with mental health problems. The simple idea of Pokémon GO and how it encourages its players to take walks and explore the areas around them works wonders for those of us who feel trapped and uncomfortable outside of our safe zones.
While professional help is most certainly beneficial for millions of people around the world, this little game has granted additional benefits for individuals suffering from a lack of confidence or sense of purpose, and has given some of us a way of connecting with people and our communities. Just look at how these people took to social media to highlight the health benefits of the game:
Pokémon GO has had a profound impact on our society that far exceeds seeing a lot of adults chase down a Squirtle on the strand. The very nature of this mobile game pushes us outside and has us communicating with both friends and strangers. It's remarkable. Video games are a powerful medium, and we're thankful for all of the positive ways they impact our lives.