Is it just us, or is everyone playing Pokémon Go? Even if you’re somehow one of the few that isn’t, you’ve likely seen it all over you social media feeds, in the headlines, and maybe even mentioned on the nightly news. In short, the game is an absolute overnight phenomenon. The recently-launched title takes the iconic Pokémon franchise and turns it into a real-world, augmented reality game for your smartphone, one in which you must scower your city, town or neighborhood in an effort to catch as many virtual pocket monsters as possible.
This new virtual reality game uses a free-to-play mobile app for either iOS or Android. The game works by using your phone’s camera and GPS in order to get your real-world location. Then it uses a form of augmented reality by bringing up a cool-looking Pokémon on your screen, overlaid on top of what you see in front of you using your camera. If the timing is right and you are in the right place in your town or city, wild Pokémon leap out at you, giving you a chance to catch them with a Pokéball. It has gotten hundreds, if not millions of players outside running around looking to catch a Pokémon and has been praised as great way to exercise and remain social – though it also has many people concerned.
With Pokémon GO, users can lure others to what’s known as a “PokéStop” where you may be able to capture specific characters you’re on the hunt for, and “Pokémon gyms” where your Pokémon face off in battles.These locations have included everything from churches to police stations and even more somber and sensitive locations like the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery. The stops can also be set up at individual homes, in parks or at playgrounds. Police forces, however, are worried about the game luring people, especially young kids into potentially dangerous situations and are cautioning players to use their common sense. People have been seen driving erratically while trying to play the game not to mention how dangerous it is to run around a busy street while glued to your phone. Some people playing the game have wandered into private yards, driveways, cemeteries and, in one U.S. case, even an off-limits police parking lot in search of the app’s cartoon monsters. There was even a 15-year-old stuck by a car while playing in Vancouver.
The game is great for getting children — and adults — up off the couch and being active and so one of the first things parents can do is to actually play the game themselves and identify any safety concerns they see. For young children, parents should institute a “buddy system,” making certain their kids are playing with a friend or a group of friends rather than on their own since there is safety in numbers. You also want to make your kids aware of how not paying attention to their surroundings while staring at a screen can be dangerous in busy locations. Also, you need to avoid wandering into private yards, driveways, and cemeteries. Finally, Pokémon GO uses a lot of mobile data. It has to, really – after all, the game spends a lot of time using map data to generate various location information and to help keep track of where the player is in relation to Pokémon in the area. Not everyone, however, has an expansive data package for their smartphone – certainly not enough to keep up with a lot of playing. Therefore, some players are accruing large charges for using more data than they have as part of their plan, or getting hit with data roaming charges while attempting to play on vacation. So parents might want to be aware of that as well. Thankfully though, there are tricks to reducing the amount of data that the game uses, such as pre-downloading maps of local areas so that the game isn’t constantly refreshing them while out and about, or simply connecting to Wi-Fi when it’s available