Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pokemon Go & What Parents Need to Know

Unleashed on the American public on July 6, 2016, Pokemon Go is a phenomenon. Using its own unique vocabulary, the Pokemon card game has been played since 1996 by “Trainers” who catch and train Pokemon by expanding card decks. Now, with Pokemon Go, trainers download a smart phone app, catch, evolve, and power-up Pokemon in a virtual world. Frankly, Pokemon Go is getting gamers off of the couch and into the real, augmented reality world in huge numbers. According to the BBC, there may have been as many as 30 million downloads[i] of the Pokemon Go app in the United States as of July 25, 2016.

As a parent of a Pokemon go Trainer, there are a few things about which you really should be aware.

First, Pokeman Go encourages Trainers (players) to get out of the house. By rewarding trainers with Poke Balls, Eggs, Razz Berries, among othe things Trainers must visit Poke Stops. Poke Stops are frequently located at or near landmarks, usually in community centers. High concentrations of Poke Stops draw high concentrations of Poke Trainers Additionally, Eggs are incubated and hatched by walking either 2, 5, or 10 kilometers, depending on the egg. Finally, achievement oriented Trainers “level-up,” or achieve a higher skill level by increasing "XP," which is accomplished when a Trainer captures a Pokemon. Leveling-up is rewarded with additional Poke Balls among other items.

The big picture here, I think, is a good one. However, there are a number of dangers associated with Pokemon Go, particularly for younger Trainers. First, Pokemon “spawn,” or appear somewhat randomly. The game includes both a “nearby” grid and a map that players may use to locate Pokemon. Rare or infrequently spawning Pokemon in the area may result in a minor (or major) riot as excited players converge on the area where a Pokemon is reported to be. This rush to capture a Pokemon may cause distraction and may result in a lapse of attention to traffic or other dangers.

Chasing the elusive Pokemon.

Older Trainers are enjoying the nostalgia of playing a virtual version of the original Pokemon card game. Many of the Trainers are teenagers or twenty-somethings. It’s also not uncommon to see much older Trainers as well. Players typically roost and play where a high-concentration of Poke Stops exist and. Often, Trainers set Pokemon Lures, which lures Pokemon to a Poke Stop and benefits all nearby players. While I haven’t personally witnessed any improprieties in these areas and while I espouse a “free range kids” parenting strategy, the age dynamic is worth your attention.

Trainers need to be aware of Pokemon Drivers
Inevitably, some people have used Pokemon Go for criminal activities. By using Lures at a Poke Stop, some criminals have lured more than Pokemon. Criminals can and have lured players to more remote Poke Stops with the intention of robbery or other criminal activity. “The teens, whose ages range from 16 to 18, are suspected to be behind 10 to 11 armed robberies in St. Louis and St. Charles counties in which they allegedly used the app to bait victims.[ii]

Considering Pokemon Go uses smart phone GPS to place Poke Stops and Pokemon in proximity to Trainers, privacy concerns also exist. The benefits to Nintendo, the maker of Pokemon Go, though, will be a topic for another time. For now, have a conversation with your kids, who just want to be kids and have fun. Have that conversation about safety, whether walking, riding a bicycle, and playing Pokemon Go, or doing something else. 

[i]Should you believe those Pokemon Go download numbers?” BBC News Magazine. July 25, 2016. 
[ii]Teens used Pok√©mon Go app to lure robbery victims, police say.” Miller, Ryan W. USAToday. June 11, 2016