Why Pokemon Go is not for everyone


Parents need to know that Pokémon GO is an insanely popular augmented reality game (based on the huge franchise of video games, card games, and other media) that requires an internet connection with GPS tracking and movement in the real world. Playing the game, which appeals to a wide range of ages, involves various safety and security issues. Privacy concerns are being explored and addressed, so it’s best to consistently update to the current version and check your settings.

Other risks include physical injury due to distraction, being directed to unsafe places or onto private property, and even becoming a target for assault or robbery (all of these things have already happened to players in the real world). A player’s location is tracked, stored, and revealed to nearby players, including both children and adults. The game requires a large amount of power and drains phone batteries quickly. Its privacy policy indicates that user information — including name, email, age, and location — is collected; parents of children under 13 must confirm their child’s account or contact the Pokémon Company International to refuse the company access to this information (this, plus the other risks, is the reason for our age rating). The privacy policy was updated July 1, and a disclaimer at the start indicates it could change further at any time.

The Pokémon franchise has always been about two things: collecting fanciful creatures and making them fight each other. POKÉMON GO builds on this, using augmented reality to bring these challenges into the real world. Players take on the role of a young Pokémon trainer and collect various Pokémon (more than 150) in real locations by walking, biking, driving, and so on. GPS tracking follows you around a map that simulates real-world locations in real time (so long as your internet connection is strong enough), where you encounter map icons that show where you can catch wild Pokémon, gather resources, and visit training gyms. The more ground you cover, the bigger your collection and the more energy you have. Once you reach a high enough level, you can join a team and pit your Pokémon against those of rival trainers.

If the execution were clean and privacy and safety weren’t concerns, this would be a brilliant game — and certainly lots of people are having a great time playing it. Sadly, the experience has a range of poor design choices, technical issues, and security risks. The minimal interface offers little tutorial and even less feedback that would clue you in to how to use the training gyms, and the omission of simple but important menu info makes managing your collection a chore. In addition, gameplay is constantly interrupted by bugs and internet server/connection issues that result in crashes, lost Pokémon, invisible characters, and temporarily erased player profiles. Add to these issues a string of incidents around violence, private property, and security issues, and it’s difficult to recommend the app without some serious caveats and cautions.

Still, there’s something magical about the social phenomenon and immediate point of connection with other players: Everywhere you go — in libraries, at the grocery store, on the street — people are playing Pokémon GO and approaching each other, smiling and talking enthusiastically about their collections, strategies, and levels. This positive reception indicates players’ willingness to overlook the game’s imperfections, as well as the stories of distracted players getting hurt, lost, or robbed. And though it could be difficult to watch your backand your step while you play, it’s cool to catch wild Charmanders and Geodudes in the real world. Because it’s such a mixed bag, parents need to weigh the costs and benefits of a highly social, active game such as this, determine whether it’s right for their family, and figure out what rules and limits need to be set before kids start to play.

What to discuss with your kids about Pokemon Go

  • Families can talk about the privacy and safety implications of a game like Pokémon GO. Discuss the best practices to play securely together: Keep the app updated, set up a separate email account just for gaming, use a made-up display name, turn off location tracking when you’re not playing, and avoid signing in through social media accounts.
  • Talk about physical safety. It’s great to get out in the world and be active, but it’s not safe to walk, ride, or drive while looking at your phone. Also, your family’s rules about neighborhood boundaries and keeping safe outside should apply. If the game directs you onto private property, don’t go, and if a situation with other players feels uncomfortable or unsafe, leave immediately. Kids should play with an adult or with friends so they’re not wandering around alone.
  • Talk about finding balance between using a screen and other activities. Though Pokémon GO is more active than some games and encourages interaction, it’s still an on-screen experience. How can you find a stopping point?
  • Why do app/game companies want to collect user data? What do you think they do with it?
  • Why do you think this particular game is so popular? What sets it apart from other games, and why does it appeal to such a wide range of players? What makes it so fun, and how can the whole family play together safely?

common sense