It’s been a couple of weeks since Pokémon Go launched in the UK and across the country both young and old are engrossed in their smartphones hunting for these elusive creatures. There has been a lot of negative press about the game, including complaints about players causing problems at hospitals, caves, and even at the site of the world’s second biggest nuclear disaster. Some people are rightly worried about the safety implications of having large amounts of people walking around focusing on their phone and not where they are going (although anyone who has ever walked through central London during rush hour will be aware that this isn’t a new phenomenon), whilst others are concerned about the risks of young children wandering off with strangers whilst playing the game.
So, as a parent, should you be concerned about your child playing Pokémon Go? Being a self-confessed gamer geek who remembers the Pokémon craze from the first time round, I was intrigued about all the hype surrounding the game. Therefore, in the interest of informing the Mumblog readership and in no way fuelled by my own attraction to addictive, quirky games, I downloaded the game onto my phone and spent a week playing it with my nearly four-year-old son and my six-month-old daughter. My son became a Pokémon Go convert within about thirty seconds, whilst my daughter seemed more interested in getting the phone into her mouth. This is what we discovered.
Pokémon Go: The Basics
Pokémon Go is a free to play game available on both Android and iOS phones. The game is downloaded from either the Apple App Store or Google Play and uses both your phone’s GPS and 3G/4G signal to operate. Although the game is free to play, in app purchases and the game’s data usage can result in a hefty phone or credit card bill if not carefully monitored. Opportunities to level faster via the purchase of in game items may be very tempting for your child. You can password protect in app purchases on both Android and iOS handsets through their settings, and this is worth doing if your child is playing unsupervised and you want to avoid a shock when the bill arrives. The game uses data to load maps etc. and so you will need to monitor your data allowance. Some phone companies will simply stop you using data once you have reached your limit, whilst others will apply a surcharge for every megabyte over your limit, again potentially resulting in a nasty shock at the end of the month. Check with your network provider to see what their policy is.
How to Play
After you have downloaded the game you are asked to create a character and choose a name. You are then shown a map of your surroundings. Walking through an area with the game active on your phone will reveal various objects of interest on the map. These include:
- Pokémon: Small creatures that appear on the screen as you walk. One of the aims of the game is to try and catch as many of these creatures as possible. They take various forms, including marine, mammal, and bird forms. When a creature is detected your phone camera will switch on and the creature will appear on the screen as though it were really in front of you.
- Poké Ball: These are balls that are used to catch the creatures by using a flick action on your phone’s screen when a creature appears. You start with a limited amount of Poké Balls and can collect more by visiting a Pokéstop.
- Pokéstop: These are points of interest on the map that you can visit to collect items such as Poké Balls (used to catch Pokémon) and eggs (these can be incubated and hatched into rare Pokémon). They are found at places such as monuments, churches, plaques, etc.
- Pokémon Gym: These are battle arenas for the Pokémon. They are located at public meeting places, such as village halls or churches, and using your Pokémon you can battle other players for control over the gym to earn rewards.
You level up through the game by gaining experience points. These points are rewarded for collecting Pokémon, visiting Pokéstops, and battling in gyms. In addition, every time you catch a Pokémon, you receive Stardust and Candy, and these can be used to increase your Pokémon’s fighting abilities.
In game items, such as potions, that give you a boost can be purchased in exchange for Pokécoins. Whilst Pokécoins can be obtained through gameplay, they can also be purchased through your phone’s app provider and it’s here where there is the potential for your child to run up a large bill.
Pokémon Go – The Benefits of Playing
I have seen a lot of criticism of Pokémon Go in the last couple of weeks, some of it fuelled by safety concerns, but more often than not from people who consider computer games and those who play them to be “sad” and “pointless”. Personally, however, I found it to be fun way of spending a couple of hours with my children exploring our local area and feel that much of the criticism directed at the game is unwarranted. In addition, I discovered a number of benefits to playing the game.
The first time we went out with my son, who is a couple of months away from turning four, he walked for around three hours without complaint, which is unusual. On one particularly sunny Saturday, we took the children on a walk around a lake and fortunately we had enough signal to play the game. As a result, with the assistance of a picnic, my son was enthusiastic about walking around 4 miles, a great feat for such little legs, and one that would normally require a lot of bribery with chocolate to complete.
Pokémon Go derives much of its location data from Ingress, an earlier augmented reality game also owned by Niantic, the company that owns Pokémon Go. In Ingress, players mapped out points of interest, such as monuments, birthplaces of historical figures, and art galleries. This data has been used to determine the location of Poké Stops and Gyms. Whilst playing the game we were led to a number of places of interest in our town that I was previously unaware of, and I was able to talk to my son about the significance of those places. It was a learning experience for both of us.
Finally, as much of the game involves numbers, such as character levels, experience points, combat points etc. Pokémon Go provided a great opportunity to practice some numeracy with my pre-school aged son with a game that he was very keen to play.
Safety Concerns & Tips
If you have been reading about Pokémon Go then you have probably seen some of the more disturbing stories, such as the reports from Bosnia of people seeking the creatures in minefields still covered with unexploded mines, or the rise of traffic accidents in Japan. It’s easy to blame the game in these circumstances, but by the same token, do we blame the Satnav for when a driver ends up in a field in the middle of nowhere, or the driver for not paying attention? That isn’t to say that concerns about safety of children playing the game are not valid, but by applying some common sense much of the danger can be avoided.
Always Supervise Young Children
Young children should always be supervised when playing the game. They are far more likely to wander off and stray into areas they shouldn’t than their older peers and siblings. There is no legal age limit on when a child can go out and play without adult supervision, and only you can judge if your child has the capacity to stay safe when out alone. The NSPCC recommends talking to your child about road safety and what to do if a stranger approaches them before you let them play alone.
Playing with your child is the best way to ensure their safety. For older children, you could insist that they play with friends or siblings and agree some ground rules, such as a return time or areas that are out of bounds.
Part of the game involves battling other players for control over gyms. Therefore it’s possible that your child may encounter other people playing the game. Of course, many of these will be other children, and as a fully paid up member of the grown up geeky gamer clique I can assure you that most of us older players are also pretty harmless. It’s highly unlikely that your child will come to any harm from another player, but it is still important to discuss with your child the boundaries they should put in place. Your child should also know what to do if they find themselves in a situation they are not comfortable with.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Most of us have been guilty at some point of looking at our phones instead of where we are going. With Pokémon Go I found it very easy to get engrossed in the map and pay less attention to my surroundings. Turning the sound down to very low or silent can help with that, as it enables you to easily hear cars, etc. that may be approaching. Furthermore, you can leave the game running and place your phone in your pocket, as it will vibrate when a Pokémon is near. As part of your boundaries for your children you could insist that they only play in pedestrian only areas such as parks. As an incentive, you are more likely to find certain types of Pokémon in greener areas.
Talk to your child in advance about areas that should be out of bounds. Thankfully, we don’t have any abandoned minefields here in the UK, but there are plenty of areas that should be avoided, including building sites, caves, and deep or fast moving waters. Some areas may be safe to visit but that doesn’t mean it is appropriate to do so, such as hospitals or cemeteries when a funeral is taking place. Explain to your child the reasons why these areas are out of bounds so that they understand the potential danger or upset that can arise.
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