At this point, it may seem like everyone you know is either playing or talking about Pokémon Go — from your 6-year-old son to the professional, no-nonsense CEO of your company (really!).
Just released in July, it quickly became one of the most used mobile apps in the world.
So even if, like me, you have no intention of wandering around outside attempting to capture cartoon monsters (although I have dabbled), you should probably know a thing or two about it. Especially if you’re a parent, since safety concerns have surfaced. At the very least, you don’t want to be the only person at this weekend’s summer barbeque who doesn’t know what a Charmander is.
What is it?
The first Pokémon game debuted on Nintendo Game Boy in 1996 and became a wildly popular gaming and trading card phenomenon over the years. The general premise is a universe in which little creatures called Pokémon are captured by human “trainers” (that’s you) and trained to battle other Pokémon in competitions. The winner gets to keep the losing Pokémon and train him too, hence the catchphase, “Gotta Catch ’em All!”
How you play
Pokémon Go, the mobile app, uses augmented reality to allow users to play the game in the real world. After you download it, you create an avatar (see my cool look, below) and the game then starts using your GPS to track your location. Pokémon are hiding all over the real world and as you move through it, you can watch them jump out in front of you, or see where they are in your vicinity and walk towards that location to get a chance to capture one. You capture them by throwing a Pokéball at them on screen. Users can also set up “lures” to try to attract Pokémon to their location. The idea is to capture as many of the creatures as possible and battle other players to collect their Pokémon at “gyms” (gyms also have real-life physical locations you need to walk to). All the Pokémon you capture are stored inside your Pokédex for your viewing pleasure.
One reported benefit to Pokémon Go that’s been reported so far? Many media outlets are reporting that it’s getting lots of normally sedentary people to move—particularly kids who’d rather sit inside and play video games. In other words, it could be a better exercise motivator than some of the more traditional options, like yelling at your kids to “get your butts of the couch and go play outside!” I’ve spoken to many a parent who says their kids are suddenly much more incentivized to walk the dog, and others who say it’s a great way to get out and bond with their kids and get some exercise.
Of course, while out walking, players have to keep their eye on their smartphone screen, which can be dangerous in terms of not paying attention to surroundings. Two users in San Diego actually fell off a cliff while playing (but were thankfully okay!); others have been caught playing while driving. Finally, criminals also have used the game to lure players into secluded locations where they could easily be targeted for robberies. So it pays to talk to your kids about boundaries: If they’re going to search for Pokémon without adult supervision, make sure they know how far they can (and can’t) go.
Less serious but potentially annoying: The game is free except for optional in-app purchases, but just like all “freemium” games they do a good job of making those extra Pokéballs, and “egg incubators” irresistible if you want to excel quickly in the game. Pokémon Go also eats up battery life and data like crazy, so if your kids are playing it non-stop on your iPad or phone, you’ll end up with oft-dead devices and a gnarly bill at the end of the month. The best bet is to only let them play while connected to WiFi to avoid data overages (make sure they know the difference between Wifi and cellular connections— lots of kids don’t!), and to invest in a portable back-up charger like the Tech21 Evo Endurance Case.
And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if, after watching over their shoulder, you end up running all over Los Angeles in pursuit of a Diglett.
Have your kids been obsessed? Have you played it yet? Share your Pokémon Go experiences so far in the comments!