Pokémon GO

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Pokémon GO App Poster Image
Exciting, active game marred by privacy and safety issues.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 28 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 41 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Ease of play

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

Violence

Point is to train different creatures to fight one another, but no blood, overt violence.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

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

Drinking, drugs & smoking

What 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 Pokémon 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.

User Reviews

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 enoug...
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 s...
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
Kid, 12 years old August 20, 2016

Pokemon Go: Not as good as other apps, but fine

Pokemon Go is an alright app, but not as good as many others. It basically involves going in the real world and catching Pokemon. Fun, right? Wrong! While it wa...

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? 

App details

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