Pokemon Go and Social Anxiety

When I heard about “Pokémon Go”, I remembered I was very skeptical about how the whole situation would work out. No one knew what the game developer Niantic, Inc. would produce such a praised video game from the 90s franchise. Going from handheld consoles to mobile devices was a big launch for “Pokémon.”

On the day that “Pokémon Go” was released, I launch my application and then sat there truly terrified of the idea of going outside and meeting other people. I consider myself to be an introverted person, most of the time staying indoors so I do not have to interact with other people in the outside world. Staying at my computer playing video games all day was the life for me. I did not have to talk to anyone out of my comfort zone.

The “Pokémon Go” tutorial made a Squirtle appear right outside of my house on the front lawn when I had to choose between the three starter “Pokémon”: Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur. I managed to retrieve the ‘pocket monster’ with a Poke ball and quickly ran back inside my house.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind being around people to be honest, but I have to psych myself up before leaving the house every time. If I do not mentally prepare my state of mind, I get a nervous butterfly-feeling in the pit of my stomach and want to rush home and just sit in front of my computer for the rest of the day.

I work as a cashier at a nearby restaurant here in Huntsville where I meet hundreds of people per day whom I have to greet each one as they come through our front doors. This job has helped me significantly on my social skills since I have started working there, but by the end of the shift I am mentally exhausted and need to go home to “recharge” for the next day. There is just something about people that drains your energy so rapidly.

The first time I caught a Pidgey, I was out with my friends. We all drove to SHSU after my afternoon shift. The university was surprisingly full of people on a Thursday night during the summer. Usually everyone is out vacationing in other parts of the country and having fun instead of being here on campus.

I was not yet familiar with the game at the time, so after throwing Pokeball after Pokeball at this bird-type “Pokemon” called a Pidgey, students and residents of the town started to pass me. They would look at me and smile saying things like, “Hey dude, are you playing ‘Pokemon’ too?” “Yup,” I replied with the quietest noise ever as I gave this person a nod. I didn’t want to say anymore since I did not know the people. I was not up to the task of talking to strangers still.

This would happen constantly every five minutes or so as I walked around campus finding the next best “Pokemon” to add to my collection.

Eventually, I just gave in and attempted to make conversation with everyone that approached me. The whole routine of meeting people as I walked around campus became easier as each day passed by. The topic of each conversation would always be about the same. What level are you on “Pokémon Go?” What’s your strongest “Pokémon” so far? Did you catch this type of “Pokémon” over by the mall area? It became easier for me to engage in conversation with this repeated pattern. Instead of feeling like some slob and failure as I sit at my computer for hours on end, I found a new way to spend my time and be more social in my community.

I feel that with the release of “Pokémon Go” this summer has helped people with depression, anxiety and agoraphobia to leave their house and actually become social. As a way of confirming my idea about what “Pokémon Go” has done for me, I was talking to my fellow classmates during the first day of class and they expressed the same thoughts. They told me that “Pokémon Go” has really helped them come out of their shell and talk to random strangers about “Pokémon” like they’ve known them their whole life.

Now that the semester has started up, many students can interact easier amongst one another as they seek the same goal of catching “Pokémon” on campus. So if you see someone who is playing “Pokémon Go”, go strike up a conversation with them. You never know what will come from it. Little did I know that Squirtle would be the start of my journey of meeting new friends, helping be more social with my community and experience life in a new perspective.

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