Last Tuesday, something big happened. A record-breaking new game became available on mobile devices nationwide. The game is Pokémon GO and it’s had a meteoric rise in just a week since its release:
**Most downloaded app in Apple’s App store
**Installed on over 5 percent of Android phones in the U.S. in two days
**Over 65 million players, surpassing Twitter for number of U.S. users
**Nintendo’s stock soared nearly 25 percent Monday because of the game—its biggest gain in more than 30 years.
So what’s the big deal with Pokémon GO?
With 65 million players, your kids are either already playing the game or soon will be encouraged to join. It’s critical for you to be in-the-know about this game app so you can help protect your kids and teach them to play safely if you decide they should play at all.
According to Vox:
Pokémon is a Nintendo franchise that launched in the 1990s. In its world, “trainers” travel the world to catch varied monsters called Pokémon—rats, dragons, swordlike creatures and more—and use these critters to fight each other. The trainer’s goal is to “catch ’em all,” as the franchise’s slogan suggests, and become a Pokémon master by defeating prestigious trainers known as gym leaders and Elite Four.
This promotional video also gives a good idea of how players play the game.
Pokémon GO uses a mobile phone’s GPS and clock to decide which Pokémon appear in the game. So players must traverse around the real world to “catch ‘em all” in the game.
Pokémon GO has spread like wildfire. Well, no, even wildfires don’t spread this fast.
Here are seven things parents need to know about the extremely popular new game.
1. Pokémon GO takes place in an augmented reality.
Augmented reality refers to a real-world environment whose elements are combined with game-generated images and sound. The game takes place on real street corners, shops, landmarks and everywhere else. The game places game elements, like Pokémon, in this augmented reality and players must go to real-world places to accomplish tasks in the game. For example, a game player might walk to a park up the road to catch a Pokémon the game has placed there.
2. The game naturally encourages exercise.
Before we get to the bad (and we will get there), we must affirm this game gets players moving. Even Fitbit can’t compete with this kind of motivation to walk around. In a world where most games encourage players to sit still for hours and hours, here’s a game that gets them moving. In fact, a recent Guardian article posed the question, “Is Pokémon Go the answer to America’s obesity problem?”
3. The game could have benefits for mental health.
Many game players suffering from depression and anxiety have noticed the game has helped. Psychologist John M. Grohol reported on PsychCentral, users are reporting an unexpected improvement in their depression and anxiety as a result of playing the game. He believes the benefit comes from encouraging people to get moving around—something that study after study has shown is beneficial for mental health. It’s early to tell, but if exercise is good for our physical and mental health, Pokémon GO at least has that going for it.
Click here, for more on the potential mental benefits of playing the game.
4. The game includes a “lure” component.
One area of caution for parents of Pokémon GO players is the part of the game where players can lure other players to specific places. There are reports of Pokémon destinations (called “Gyms” and “PokéStops”) appearing in people’s homes or schools, even near playgrounds. Any game this popular that includes an intrinsic ability to lure young people (the game is rated for ages 9 and up) to unknown places should set alarm bells off with parents. There are certain places young people shouldn’t go, even if there is a Pokémon prize to catch.
In New Jersey, police recently reminded residents: “Normally you wouldn’t go to a deserted alley at 3 a.m. That shouldn’t change just because an app said you should.”
5. It’s dangerous to wander around distracted.
We already live in a world where too many people’s attention is diverted by their mobile devices. Pokémon GO encourages distraction on the move. We must teach our kids to be present where they are and aware of their surroundings. We also should teach our children to trust their fear of uneasiness in unfamiliar places. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut.
6. Some locations have already been asking Pokémon GO users to stay away.
The Holocaust Museum in D.C., the Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial and Auschwitz are among those locations asking gamers to stay away. One of the natural consequences of this game is the possibility of loitering.
Andrew Hollinger, the communications director at the Holocaust Museum, patiently explained in a statement to Vox that while he and his colleagues understand the value of the game, it does not belong in their museum:
We feel playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is inappropriate. We encourage visitors to use their phones to share and engage with Museum content while here. Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls outside of our educational and memorial mission. We are looking into how the Museum can be removed from it.
7. The game may create a false sense of camaraderie.
Like many of the new Internet-age video games, players can play with people they don’t know across town or around the world. Players can jump into a game with a room full of people they don’t know and shouldn’t trust. Pokémon GO adds to think where you might meet up with dozens of people at a local park for a battle. Accomplishing a goal together can create a sense of camaraderie and relationship that wouldn’t be appropriate or natural in another setting. Tony Kummer develops this point further in his post here.
Pokémon GO and games like it are here to stay. This is the first augmented-reality game to really take off and its popularity ensures there will be more games like it. It’s important for parents to think intentionally about how they will lead and protect their families in this new world, where people are walking to the park, not just for the exercise, but to gather with strangers around town for another epic Pokémon battle. Wait, did I say that right?