What started out as a nice walk between my son and I a few days ago ended up being an important discussion on Internet and gaming safety. My son kept looking at his phone and I asked him why! We usually have a no screen time when there is family time rule. What was taking his attention and making him risk breaking the no screen time rule? It was a new mobile game/app, that unless you have unplugged completely from all technology and news, everyone has heard about: Pokémon Go.
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is a Augmented Reality game where players need to actually walk to move their avatar in the game. The concept is family friendly, the battles are cartoon “Pokémon” style battles. It is a fun game that takes kids (and adult) outside or one that they can play on the move. Players look for PokéStops and Pokémon gyms which are usually at meeting places and attractions. While the game is *free*, there is in-app purchases that parents need to be aware of. The game was developed by Niantic labs with the Pokemon Company and Nintendo. Niantic’s CEO said the goals of the game were to inspire “exercise, see the world in new eyes and break the ice“.
Here is an example of what the avatar screen looks like before a gym battle:
Here is an example of a Pokémon gym battle:
Here is the description from the Pokémon website:
“Travel between the real world and the virtual world of Pokémon with Pokémon GO for iPhone and Android devices. With Pokémon GO, you’ll discover Pokémon in a whole new world—your own! Pokémon GO is built on Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform and will use real locations to encourage players to search far and wide in the real world to discover Pokémon. Pokémon GO allows you to find and catch more than a hundred species of Pokémon as you explore your surroundings. The Pokémon video game series has used real-world locations such as the Hokkaido and Kanto regions of Japan, New York, and Paris as inspiration for the fantasy settings in which its games take place. In Pokémon GO, the real world will be the setting! Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon. Explore cities and towns around where you live and even around the globe to capture as many Pokémon as you can. As you move around, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you’re near a Pokémon. Once you’ve encountered a Pokémon, take aim on your smartphone’s touch screen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Be careful when you try to catch it, or it might run away! Also look for PokéStops located at interesting places, such as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments, where you can collect more Poké Balls and other items.”
Security, Safety and Data Security Issues
Along with in app purchases, here are some other things parents need to not only be aware of, but set up safety and privacy rules for Pokémon Go:
- Physical Security Issues: You play in “public” teams and that can be a security issue for kids and adults. Parents should tell their kids to only go to know local destinations such as town libraries, schools, parks and never meet up with strangers. Depending on the age of the kids, it will be very important for parents to go with the kids on their walks. In our case, we have teens so they are out on their own more often. We still sat down with our teens to talk about the safety issues and set up rules for using the game while out of the house (such as issue 2)! This reminds me of when I found out you can actually get robbed in minecraft.
- Not paying attention to your surroundings: When you are playing there is some monitoring of the app to see when there is a battle or other game activities. I told my kids they can NOT WALK AND LOOK AT THEIR PHONE AT THE SAME TIME. It is dangerous when outside to not be paying attention to what is going on around you. I told my son that we need to stop walking in a safe place to check the game.
- Data Security Issues: One way to sign up for the Pokemon app is by setting up an account with your email. The other way is by using your Google account and that is where the security issue exists. If your kids use their Google account to sign up, then the app has full access to the account. This is a security flaw that the developers are trying of fix (Pokémon Go developers promise to tweak Google account permissions after security concerns via The Verge). For now, make sure your kids sign up for an account directly instead of using their Google Account (if they have one).
- In-App Purchases: As mentioned above, free apps with “in-app” purchases can be dangerous for kids who don’t understand they are spending real money. It is important to set up controls for in-app purchases. For example, for my son’s iTunes account, there is no credit card associated so he can’t make any purchases. Instead, we give him iTunes gift cards that he “earns” with chores to buy apps.
- Businesses: Some businesses may be putting information or Pokemon stops for the game on their location. Make kids aware that just because a business has information about this game does not mean they should share their photos or that the business are a safe stop.
Have you played Pokémon Go? And if so, what do you think? I am still getting to know the game so I would love to learn more from my readers!
I heard talk that the voting locations will be on the Pokémon maps. Voter turnout is an important issue, so that is one of the best uses I have heard of the game so far.
Disclosure: This is a press post. I will be updating the links as I find out more information.