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Pokemon Go!!! – What Parents Need To Know

Pokemon Go IconIf you have been in the civilized world (and  connected to the Internet) in the past week you have probably heard about all of the ruckus that Nintendo’s new game, POKÉMON GO!, is creating!  In just the first few days, POKÉMON GO! has thrown CANDY CRUSH off the top of the app pile, and (as of July 13, 2016) had over 21-MILLION peak users in the United States, alone!  The frenzy also hit Wall Street and, in the first week of release, Nintendo’s stock price jumped, adding $7.5-BILLION to the firm’s market value.

POKÉMON GO! has produced millions of happy Pokémon fans who have long awaited the fun it brings, but there are also a number of unintended consequences, risks, and outright dangers that parents need to know about.

So, let’s dive in!

First off, what IS this crazy game all about?  CAPTURING POKÉMONS!!!  This builds upon the original game concept from the 1990’s where human players, called Pokémon Trainers, wanted to capture and collect more and more powerful Pokémons in order to battle other Trainers.  Pokémon were captured through the use of a special ball called (of course) a Pokéball!  In the fictional Pokémon universe, Trainers would hunt for Pokémon throughout the world, from the local neighborhood to far islands and continents.

The thing is, you had to play in the Poké-verse using a game system, such as a GameBoy, or through the Pokémon Trading Card Games.

Pokemon Go 2

Note the Pokemon behind me!

POKÉMON GO now lets you go capture Pokemon…in the real world.  Using “augmented reality” the game allows the Trainer (player) to play (for free) in the real world through the use of the GPS and the camera of a compatible device, either an iPhone or Android phone.  Using a player-customized avatar the screen displays a map, showing the player where he is.  As he travels in the real world, the Trainer is alerted to nearby Pokémon  and can make attempts to catch them.

POKÉMON GO was released on July 6, 2016 (U.S., Australia & New Zealand, only) and hit the top of the charts for both TOP GROSSING and FREE apps in the American APP STORE.  Server strain was so bad that the developer, Niantic, delayed release in Germany and the U.K. until July 13th and 14th, respectively.

Then the news reports came in, such as these:

Right after I posted these on the KNIGHTS’ QUEST MINISTRIES Facebook page my wife informed me that a close relative had just been rear-ended on a busy boulevard by a driver (you guessed it) playing POKÉMON GO while driving!

Mom and Dad, while the risks and dangers are real, they are not to the point of justifying panic.  Like nearly all such issues with technology, these risks may be dealt with if the player (and his/her parents) take a few minutes to talk about things and set some boundaries.  Here are the three categories of risk that I see with POKÉMON GO:

  • PRIVACY
  • FINANCIAL
  • PHYSICAL SAFETY

PRIVACY RISK

Initially, POKÉMON GO accessed a LOT of your data, including:  FULL access to your Google account (email, contacts, cloud, etc.) (iOS devices only), your location, your IP address, and even the web page you were on before you accessed the game! Given the granularity of the game (it shows movement within a home/store/building) and the data it initially accessed it provided potential hackers and other “evil-doers” a way to gain a ton of near-real-time information on the player.   Fortunately, on July 12th the developer, Niantic released an update that addressed these privacy concerns. Google has also tightened the access that POKÉMON GO apps get to your account information.

For parents that should bring a sigh of relief!  If you want even more risk-reduction in the area of privacy, just create a new email account for your child on gmail.com that is ONLY used for POKÉMON GO!  Nothing else!  Sure, your child may throw a hissy fit because he/she has to lose all the Pokémon that he/she has already captured, but it’s only been out for less than 10 days (as I write this)!!!!

But, even with the media hype, I am not as concerned about privacy issues as I am about the next two risk categories!

FINANCIAL RISK

I was amazed when I went to try POKÉMON GO on my iPhone 6 to learn that the game was….FREE!!!

Pokemon Go 4

Items you can purchase using Pokecoins.

While installing the app I began to wonder: “How is Nintendo making any money here, especially enough money to justify the stock price jump????”

They are making their money through in-app purchases.  Within the game you may purchase different items, using “REAL” money.  You use very real money to by Pokécoins which are then used to buy more Pokéballs to capture more Pokémon, as well as Lucky Eggs, Poké-Eggs, various Potions to restore your Pokémon’s health, and more.

Since you are using “virtual money” it will seem more like spending “Monopoly Money” instead of your allowance….or savings!  I don’t know about you, but I think that is very dangerous!!!

But, you don’t have to buy Pokécoins.  There are ways to earn Pokécoins within the game.  But, as your child will tell you, that is SLOWER!

The best defense for parents of young Pokémon Trainers is to DISABLE IN-APP PURCHASES.  Here are some links on how to do just that:

For older Pokémon Trainers parents can allow in-app purchases.  If you are using a “Pokémon-only” email address for your account then you use Google gift cards or other means of payments to protect the family while teaching your teen responsible online behavior.  I recommend this begin around the summer before their junior year in high school.

PHYSICAL SAFETY

Niantic's safety warning screen

Niantic’s safety warning screen

The last area of risk that we need to consider is in the physical safety of our children (and ourselves if we are Pokémon Trainers)!  Here are some examples of how you can physically at risk from playing POKÉMON GO:

  • You walk right into a wall…or traffic…because you are so focused on your phone/game (also a danger for those who text and walk).
  • The location of the Pokémon is a little dangerous to get to, such as a lake, bridge, cliff, etc.
  • You are hunting Pokémon while driving
  • There’s a Pokémon on someone else’s property, so you may get arrested…or shot…when you trespass.
  • There is a Pokémon at a remote/hidden location, and “bad people” are lying in wait to assault and/or rob you.
  • You are hunting Pokémon at home, and walk right off the top of the stairs!

There are just a few ways you can be hurt playing POKÉMON GO.

To lower the risk you just need to set some boundaries on your Pokemon hunting behavior:

  • Don’t hunt Pokémon near busy streets
  • Don’t hunt Pokémon alone
  • Don’t hunt and drive….don’t be THIS GUY!
  • If you find a Pokémon on someone else’s property, especially their back yard, ask permission before continuing the hunt
  • Don’t hunt Pokémon at night
  • Always be aware of the entire map in order to give a heads up about entering a remote area, etc.

It’s not that hard to hunt Pokémon safely.  Parents just need to sit down with their children/teens and go over safe hunting rules, just as we do with bicycling, sports, driving, and more.

ON THE GOOD SIDE

POKÉMON GO hasn’t only received bad press.  There are a number of positives to the game, not the least of which is that it gets kids out of the house and into the fresh air. They may also meet new people and make new friends on their hunts!

Mental health professionals are giving POKÉMON GO high marks for helping those with mental illness and disorder, although formal studies are needed.  As one of the goals of the game is to increase social interaction, it is helping those with anxiety and depression.

Check out this list of five ways POKÉMON GO is good for you on forbes.com:

Five Ways Pokémon GO Is Actually Good For You

Finally, Mom and Dad, why not download your own POKÉMON GO app, set up an account, and go on the hunt with your kids?  Hunting Pokémon is a great family activity and exercise program!

And you can teach them safe Pokémon hunting…by example!


And don’t forget to share this article on your favorite social media service!

You might also find these articles helpful:


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