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 370 as of April 2018) 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. A spring 2018 update added the concept of Field Research, which hosts monthly theme changes with new content. It also lets players obtain random quests from PokeStops and complete them for special rewards. Completing one Field Research per day for seven days grants players a Research Breakthrough, plus a greater reward and a possible encounter with a Legendary Pokémon. Also new are story-based quest lines called Special Research Requests which have players completing tasks for Professor Willow.
Is it any good?
While this wildly popular mobile app has cooled somewhat since its launch in 2016, its latest updates bring more functionality and fun. 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. Improvements have been made as far as helping new players understand the new features, but they could still be better. New features since last year's release include more than 200 new Pokémon, a badge system, a few new items, Raiding (taking on Pokémon bosses with the help of a larger group) and some community-requested Raid tweaks. The most recent update includes the Field Research quest system and story-based Special Research Requests. Still, the game lacks the player-versus-player battles fans have been clamoring for. Raids still suffer from preset times with long no-Raid intervals in between which means players without loads of free time will never experience them. Also, though Raids have been made more accessible, the new invite-only EX Raids are really only accessible to committed high-level players.
Execution and privacy/safety remain issues; The first week of the update, logging into the game was difficult if not impossible, and gameplay can still be interrupted by bugs and internet server/connection issues. Players in rural areas report problems having access to enough content, and risks remain for kids regarding strangers, trespassing on private property, and online security. Still, there's something great how the game brings people together. People playing Pokémon GO approach each other smiling to talk about their collections, strategies, and levels. Two years post-release, this positive reception keeps players willing to overlook the game's imperfections, and to be fair, the game keeps getting better. Simple as it is, ("collect three of this, perform three Great Throws, etc.) the new Field Research system gives players some much-needed purpose in between Gym battles and Raids, and Special Research Requests give them some much-needed story context. The game continues to be a work in progress with serious technical issues and because of that, parents should weigh the costs and benefits of it, determine whether it's right for their family, and set limits 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 ways to play securely together: keeping the app updated, setting up a separate email account just for gaming, using a made-up display name, turning off location tracking when you're not playing, and avoiding signing in through social media accounts.
Talk about physical safety. While it's great to be active, it's not safe to walk, ride, or drive while looking at your phone. Set neighborhood boundaries and rules about keeping safe when outside. Make it clear to kids that it's never OK to enter private property, that they should avoid unsafe or uncomfortable situations with other players, and they they should avoid being alone by playing with an adult or with friends.
Talk about finding balance between screentime and other activities. Though Pokémon GO is more active than some games, 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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