COVID-19 as 'Game changer': Use and impact of augmented reality games on physical activity and mental well-being during the pandemic (Preprint)

Louise Ellis, Matthew Lee, Kiran Ijaz, James Smith, Jeffrey Braithwaite, Kathleen Yin
2020 Journal of Medical Internet Research  
Location-based augmented reality (AR) games, such as Pokémon GO (PGO) and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (HPWU), are shown to have beneficial impacts on physical activity, social connectedness, and mental-health for their players. In March 2020, global social distancing measures related to COVID-19 prompted the AR games developer Niantic to implement several changes to ensure continued player engagement with PGO and HPWU. We sought to examine how physical and mental well-being of PGO and HPWU
more » ... f PGO and HPWU players were affected during the unprecedented COVID-19 restriction period, as well as how video game engagement was affected. (1) To examine the impact of COVID-19 social restrictions on the physical and mental well-being of AR game players; (2) to examine the impact of COVID-19 social restrictions on usage of video games and motivations for use; and (3) to explore the potential role of AR games (and video games in general) in supporting well-being during COVID-19 social restrictions. A mixed-method, online, self-reported survey was conducted in May 2020, during which COVID-19 social restrictions were enforced in many countries. Participants were recruited online via four subreddit forums dedicated to PGO or HPWU. Data collected contained quantitative data on demographics, time spent playing video games, physical activity, and mental health, as well as qualitative data on motivations to play and video game impact on mental health during COVID-19 restrictions. We report results for 2,004 participants (58.8% male, average age=30.5 years). Self-reported physical activity during COVID-19 social restrictions significantly decreased from 7.50 hours per week on average (SD=11.12) to 6.50 (SD=7.81) (p<.001). Over half of the participants reported poor mental health (n=925/1766, 52.4%; WHO-Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5<13)). Being female, younger age, and reduced exercise were significant predictors of poor mental health. Participants reported a significant increase in video game play from 16.38 hours per week on average (SD=19.12) to 20.82 (SD=17.49) (p<.001). Three in four participants (n=1102/1427, 77.2%) reported that playing video games had been beneficial to their mental health. The changes made to PGO and HPWU were very well received by players, and players continued to use these games while exercising and to maintain social connection. In addition to providing an escape during the pandemic and as a form of entertainment, participants reported that they also used video games for emotional coping, to lower stress, relax, and alleviate mental health conditions. AR games have the potential to promote physical and mental-health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Used by populations under isolation and distress, such games can potentially improve physical and mental health by providing virtual socialization, sustained exercise, temporal routine, and mental structure. Further research is needed to explore the potential of AR games as digital behavioral interventions to maintain human wellbeing in the wider population.
doi:10.2196/25117 pmid:33284781 fatcat:wyxrvjj7crdgve6km3rzjffwea