A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
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?
While this wildly popular mobile app has cooled somewhat since its launch in 2016, its latest updates bring more functionality to the exploration game. Comments about flawed execution, privacy, and safety still stand; for instance, for the first few days of the current update, it was impossible to log in to the game. Even if you do get in, you're not given much direction when it comes to the new features -- the few that there are, anyway.
New features since last year's release include a modest amount of new content: 80 new Pokémon, a badge system, a few new items, and Raiding -- the ability to take on Pokémon bosses with the help of a larger group. Still, the game lacks the player-versus-player battles fans have been clamoring for. The new Raids could be fun, but you'll only find out if you can loiter near a gym for up to two hours at a time. That's right: Raids start at pre-set times and places, which means if you don't have loads of free time, you probably won't ever get to experience them. Then again, unless you've spent countless hours on the game already, you won't get in anyway. Raids are really only accessible to high-level players, and this exposes the update's limitations. Hard-core, high-level players will likely have fun with the handful of new features, but more casual players might find the update's not enough to warrant re-trying Pokémon GO.
If the execution were clean and if 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.