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Mac to go? Make it Pokemon Go . . .

By Nicola Miller

Nicola Miller
Nicola Miller

Recently, this paper printed a story about McDonalds applying to build a drive-thru close to Moreton Hall, a rather cynical move on part of the company considering that this estate is home to many children and their parents.

This comes at a time when obesity rates are skyrocketing, we are becoming ever more sedentary and overly reliant on our cars. And people mostly know that a fast food drive-thru is bad for us. A lot of the comments underneath the piece showed dissonance along the lines of ‘I know it’s bad for me but ah, what can you do, gotta love a Big Mac’.

Alongside this news, we have the massive popularity of Pokémon Go and an interesting example of its benefits is father-of-four Sam Clark. He has lost nearly two stone after spending a few weeks walking the equivalent of five marathons in order to ‘catch’ all 151 of these strange Japanese Manga-like creatures.

Predictably he has suffered the wrath of online commentators who have accused him of selfishness, obsessiveness and warn that this game, played on phones and tablets, will bring about End Times. To be honest, the potential unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a rather more pressing concern and I think Pokemon Go is a very good thing indeed. Add in a soupcon of common sense: don’t damage crops and close farm gates; stay out of private property and off railway lines; don’t prat about near busy roads and rivers- in fact all the things you would say to children anyway-and off you go.

Our children are outside! So are their parents! The parks, countryside and streets are full of folks on monster hunts. Instead of sitting huddled, illuminated in the blue glow of a computer screen or splayed out in front of the TV, they are breathing fresh air, roaming through the Abbey Gardens, exploring the medieval part of Bury and pleading with parents to drive them out to the seaside, the next village, anywhere that is OUTSIDE so they can find more of these creatures. And there’s plenty of Pokemon here.

The Abbey Gardens is home to Parasect, Oddish and Weepinbell (yes, I know I am speaking in strange tongues to some of you). They love parklands and wide sweeps of lawn.The bug pokemon hang out in Nowton Park and West Stow. Butterfree was flying in and out of the branches of an Indian bean tree, Weedle lurked behind a tree stump and Parasect lives in the Japanese gardens. I was a bit disappointed not to find all of them in the Japanese Gardens to be honest seeing as it’s their spiritual home from home.

We’re off to a weekend wedding in Southwold (congratulations Neil and Liz!) and a few of us will be looking for Psyduck, Magikarp and Staryu who all tend to spawn near water. Is this a bit sad? Maybe. But it’s fun and hunting magical monsters is a wonderful diversion from the daily drip feed of depressing news which is starting to feel like a personal attack. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been deeply affected by recent world events and if chasing a creature that looks like a lobster crossed with a mushroom across Ickworth Park distracts adults and kids, seriously, what’s the problem with that? Players can’t catch a Trump but they can capture Raticate who looks like him anyway- orange, angry, rotund. Call that a Trump card.

It’s not just fun though. I was talking to someone online whose agoraphobia has been helped by playing Pokemon Go. It distracts them from the wideness of public spaces and allows them to focus on one small thing at a time, thus reducing their anxiety. Dr. John Grohol is knowledgeable about the impact of technology upon human behaviour and mental health, and the founder of mental health network Psych Central. He is clear on one thing: the more exercise a person takes, the more it helps to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. The beauty of Pokemon Go is that it was not designed as a tool to manage symptoms of psychological distress but what it does do is encourage healthier lifestyle behaviours and engenders a sense of community. And mental illness can be very isolating, especially when our local mental health trust, the NSFT, is so severely underfunded that patients are having to wait months for an appointment with a psychiatrist.

I know that a computer game is not a panacea, but if it can help raise the threshold with regards to ones resilience, then we have to take what we can get.

-- Nicola Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog. Follow her on Twitter: @NicMillersTale


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