Pokémon GO App Poster Image

Pokémon GO

Exciting, active game marred by privacy and safety issues.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Ease of play

Easy to pick up and begin, but poorly explained rules and controls mean either prolonged frustration or an internet search.

Violence

The point is to train different creatures to fight one another, but there's no blood or other overt violence.

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism

You can play without spending money, but players who make in-app purchases to buy PokéCoins, Poké Balls, and upgrades shave a definite advantage. Partnerships with retailers like Starbucks and Sprint drive users to stores.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Potions are used to heal injured creatures.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Pokémon GO is an insanely popular augmented reality game (based on the huge franchise of video games, card games, and other media) that requires an internet connection with GPS tracking and movement in the real world. Playing the game, which appeals to a wide range of ages, involves various safety and security issues. Privacy concerns are being explored and addressed, so it's best to consistently update to the current version and check your settings. Other risks include physical injury due to distraction, being directed to unsafe places or onto private property, and even becoming a target for assault or robbery (all of these things have already happened to players in the real world). A player's location is tracked and stored, and a player's avatar, trainer name, and in-game stats are shared with other players in gym battles or after placing a lure module. The game requires a large amount of power and drains phone batteries quickly, and there's a wristband available for $35 -- the Pokemon GO Plus -- that alerts players to nearby pocket monsters. Partnerships with various brands also drive users to stores, which can encourage purchases. The privacy policy indicates that user information -- including name, email, age, and location -- is collected; parents of children under 13 must confirm their child's account or contact the Pokémon Company International to refuse the company access to this information (this, plus the other risks, is the reason for our age rating). The privacy policy was updated July 1, and a disclaimer at the start indicates it could change further at any time.

What's it about?

The Pokémon franchise has always been about two things: collecting fanciful creatures and making them fight each other. POKÉMON GO builds on this, using augmented reality to bring these challenges into the real world. Players take on the role of a young Pokémon trainer and collect various Pokémon (more than 150) in real locations by walking, biking, driving, and so on. GPS tracking follows you around a map that simulates real-world locations in real time (so long as your internet connection is strong enough), where you encounter map icons that show where you can catch wild Pokémon, gather resources, and visit training gyms. The more ground you cover, the bigger your collection and the more energy you have. Once you reach a high enough level, you can join a team and pit your Pokémon against those of rival trainers. 

Is it any good?

QUALITY

If the execution were clean and privacy and safety weren't concerns, this would be a brilliant game -- and certainly lots of people are having a great time playing it. Sadly, the experience has a range of poor design choices, technical issues, and security risks. The minimal interface offers little tutorial and even less feedback that would clue you in to how to use the training gyms, and the omission of simple but important menu info makes managing your collection a chore. In addition, gameplay is constantly interrupted by bugs and internet server/connection issues that result in crashes, lost Pokémon, invisible characters, and temporarily erased player profiles. Add to these issues a string of incidents around violence, private property, and security issues, and it's difficult to recommend the app without some serious caveats and cautions.

Still, there's something magical about the social phenomenon and immediate point of connection with other players: Everywhere you go -- in libraries, at the grocery store, on the street -- people are playing Pokémon GO and approaching each other, smiling and talking enthusiastically about their collections, strategies, and levels. This positive reception indicates players' willingness to overlook the game's imperfections, as well as the stories of distracted players getting hurt, lost, or robbed. And though it could be difficult to watch your back and your step while you play, it's cool to catch wild Charmanders and Geodudes in the real world. Because it's such a mixed bag, parents need to weigh the costs and benefits of a highly social, active game such as this, determine whether it's right for their family, and figure out what rules and limits need to be set before kids start to play.  

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the privacy and safety implications of a game like Pokémon GO. Discuss the best practices to play securely together: Keep the app updated, set up a separate email account just for gaming, use a made-up display name, turn off location tracking when you're not playing, and avoid signing in through social media accounts. 

  • Talk about physical safety. It's great to get out in the world and be active, but it's not safe to walk, ride, or drive while looking at your phone. Also, your family's rules about neighborhood boundaries and keeping safe outside should apply. If the game directs you onto private property, don't go, and if a situation with other players feels uncomfortable or unsafe, leave immediately. Kids should play with an adult or with friends so they're not wandering around alone. 

  • Talk about finding balance between using a screen and other activities. Though Pokémon GO is more active than some games and encourages interaction, it's still an on-screen experience. How can you find a stopping point?

  • Why do app/game companies want to collect user data? What do you think they do with it?

  • Why do you think this particular game is so popular? What sets it apart from other games, and why does it appeal to such a wide range of players? What makes it so fun, and how can the whole family play together safely? 

App details

Devices:iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
Price:Free
Pricing structure:Free
Release date:July 8, 2016
Category:Adventure Games
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Size:193.00 MB
Publisher:Niantic, Inc.
Version:1.0
Minimum software requirements:iOS 8.0 or later; Android 4.4 and up

This review of Pokémon GO was written by

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What parents and kids say

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Educator and Parent of a 7 year old Written bydejahh July 15, 2016

This game is like an illicit drug to small children...very addictive

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed my 7 year old son with ADHD and behavior issues up to play Pokemon Go on my phone. He struggles enough with stopping fun activities like video games or YouTube, but this game took it to a whole new level. He instantly became obsessed with it, running around our apartment complex catching "real" Pokemon. He also got a lot of positive social affirmations from other kids and bought into all the hype on YouTube. After the third meltdown trying to get my phone back from him, I deleted it from my phone. What a scene. He hated me and felt his life was over. I showed him some examples of how adults are having a hard time making smart choices when playing this game and he is starting to come around. I really wish I would have come to commonsense media before downloading this game. It would have saved me a lot of trouble.
What other families should know
Safety and privacy concerns
Kid, 12 years old July 12, 2016

Only for city people

I live In a small town in Michigan and it wants me to go to Detroit
What other families should know
Safety and privacy concerns
Adult Written bymychza July 15, 2016

Has a few glitches, but really fun.

I think if you have privacy concerns you may want to download the app to your own phone and have the account. They are constantly upgrading to make it better so hopefully the glitches which are very frustrating will go away soon. I let my 10 year old have it on his own but we go out together to parks and places to walk around. When it works, it's great. It motivates the kids to do chores and things so they can go out to parks and catch pokemon while also encouraging them to be outside and see nature. The people we have all meet have been nice and willing to talk when he wants to ask them what level they're on or how they learned the curve ball. It's a great way to get out and explore your city and meet people and have family time doing an activity that is pretty fun for everyone and free. You don't have to buy anything if you don't want to. I definitely wouldn't let them go play it on their own without supervision.
What other families should know
Easy to play/use
Safety and privacy concerns