On July 14, 2016, software development company Niantic released Pokémon GO, a mobile game built upon the highly popular Japanese media franchise, in the UK. To say the game was an instant hit is an understatement. Only one week after its launch in the United States on July 6, it was named the biggest selling mobile game in U.S. history. The game’s popularity isn’t just limited to North America, however. Children all over the UK are playing the game, too, and it’s raised a number of questions regarding player safety. With an unprecedented amount of interest in the mobile game, some believe that it presents vulnerabilities that can put players, especially children, at risk.
Pokémon GO is a mobile app available on iOS and Android devices that uses augmented-reality to effectively put the player in the game. The object of the game is to catch Pokémon, raise and develop their strengths and battle other players. By utilising their smartphone’s camera and GPS, players navigate through their everyday surroundings in search of Pokémon. When Pokémon appear, users can see them on their smartphone screens among their real-life surroundings. The phone’s GPS allows users to find and catch Pokémon, with different ones being available in different locations, requiring players to physically travel to catch them. Similarly, PokéStops and Gyms, places where players can congregate, collect free items or battle, can be located at nearly any landmark. From parks to churches to malls, almost any place can be marked as a PokéStop.
Unlike other mobile games available on smartphones and mobile devices, Pokémon GO encourages users to play together, creating and cultivating a community. For example, players can add a beacon to a PokéStop to attract more players to that location. This inclusiveness is one of the many draws players have to the game, though it raises some concerns for parents.
Why Might Parents Be Concerned?
Although the game offers many benefits, such as encouraging children to go outdoors and explore, stay active and make friends, it can also pose some risks to unsuspecting players.
Because the game requires users to stay glued to their smartphone screens, they’re much less likely to notice their immediate surroundings. Players walking into the street without looking in both directions first has put drivers on alert, but even drivers aren’t exempt from the risks. Much like texting while driving, playing Pokémon GO while behind the wheel is a bad idea and greatly increases the likelihood of a traffic accident. Some police stations, in fact, have already put out warnings on Twitter to discourage this kind of behaviour.
Pokémon GO’s long list of PokéStops has also become a point of contention. Because almost any place can be marked as a PokéStop, there are some less-than-ideal places that serve as meeting spots for players. Reports of players trespassing on private property, along with suspicious behaviour, have been made in recent days and it could land some kids in big trouble.
Players should also be warned of thieves or predators taking advantage of the game’s navigation algorithm. Because anyone can add a beacon to a PokéStop to alert nearby players, almost anyone can use this method to lure unsuspecting players into danger, be it a robbery or worse. Smartphones are expensive devices that attract thieves, especially when the users aren’t paying attention, much like many of the game’s younger user base.
These risks have some parents concerned about Pokémon GO’s safety, suggesting that the developer overlooked these issues before releasing it to the public, though no one could have expected the game to become as popular as it did, as quickly as it did. Still, the issues it presents must be dealt with to ensure the safety and well-being of the children who play it.
How Can Your Children Stay Safe While Playing?
Though Pokémon GO can pose a number of risks to players and the public alike if they’re not careful, it doesn’t have to be an unsafe game. There are many tips and guidelines your children can follow that will keep them out of harms way while still having fun.
Keep Your Head Up
It’s important for players to take note of their surroundings and look up from their phones when doing things like crossing the street or a bike lane. Much like texting while walking, in which users are at risk of walking into sign posts, unsafe holes or divots or even other people, playing Pokémon GO can just as easily take users out of the moment. Whatever they’re doing, it’s important they follow the rules and etiquette of travelling in public.
Don’t Play & Drive
It shouldn’t have to be said, but it bears repeating: don’t drive distracted. Whether it’s playing Pokémon GO in the background or texting, driving distracted puts the driver and everyone else on the road or pavement at risk. If your child is old enough to drive, make sure they know the dangers of turning their attention away from the road in front of them.
Trust Your Instincts
If a PokéStop requires you to travel somewhere you aren’t sure of, don’t go. Anyone can add a beacon to a PokéStop in hopes of attracting an unsuspecting victim, so it’s best to stick to populated public areas where you can get help if needed. Similarly, don’t trespass on private property or disrupt the peace. If you wouldn’t travel there while not playing the game, there’s no excuse to go there simply to catch Pokémon.
Don’t Play at Night
Walking around at nighttime in unfamiliar locations at night can be unsafe and potentially dangerous. Not only are you not easily visible to traffic, but you also make yourself an easy target for thieves with your phone out and head down.
Travel With Friends
It’s always safer to travel in groups and it has the added bonus of being more fun. Rather than going solo, buddy up and watch out for each other, especially when interacting with other players, crossing the streets or navigating.
Pokémon GO is a graphic-intense game and users should be warned that it may affect their battery life negatively. A smartphone is primarily a phone, after all, so to ensure that you can make an important call, should you need it in an emergency, watch your phone’s battery life carefully. Likewise, it can take a toll on data costs. If you’re not the one paying for data, it’s advised you check with the bill payer before embarking on your Pokémon GO journey without the use of WiFi.
If you employ these simple tips and guidelines while playing Pokémon GO, you can be sure you’ll stay safe and out of trouble wherever you go. Like when doing most things, use your best discretion if you’re not sure of a situation. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Similarly, if you’re unsure about something, it’s probably best to forgo and stick to locations you know with close friends.
Things to Remember
• Watch where you’re walking driving, biking, etc., and look up from your phone to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
• Look both ways before crossing the road.
• Don’t travel to unknown or unsafe locations to catch Pokémon or find a PokéStop or Gym.
• Be wary of suspicious players.
• Don’t play in the dark when you aren’t easily visible to drivers and cyclists.
• If you’re venturing out to catch Pokémon, travel with friends or in groups.
• Be Aware of Phone-Snatchers.