What You Need to Know about Pokemon Go!



So, what’s the story with the new app Pokemon Go! that is taking the world by storm? We’ve been doing the research and have a must-read update on all you need to know. It’s not just for kids, but kids are going to be eager to take up the craze.

Pokemon Go! has been downloaded on Android almost as much as Twitter – and the free game just appeared on the scene this month – barely two weeks ago, and so far only in the US, Australia and New Zealand. It’s caused enough traffic problems that police departments have pleaded with citizens not to play when they are driving, not to trespass unwittingly, or be lured someplace shady.  And, it’s had privacy advocates up in arms because game developer Niantic (formerly part of Google) had full access to the user’s data when the game was using the Googlemaps feature of the phone (that’s supposedly already been changed, but stay tuned for official updates. That being said, if you must play, we offer Lifehacker’s directions for disabling the game’s permissions).

If you’re wondering what this is all about, listen to this story that explains the game nicely on Press Play (KCRW). We’re not just talking about learning the difference between Pikachu and Charmander – there’s much to consider.

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Here’s what Common Sense Media has to say about the new sensation — they have some important privacy concerns, warn that the game is still wonky and drains battery life, but agree that it’s all fun and interactive for all ages, engaging viewers in a new and imaginative manner.

From Common Sense: Parents need to know that Pokemon 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, including allowing the possibility of full access to your Google account (for players who log in via Google), the risk of 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 and name are also broadcast to other players, including both children and adults. The game also requires a large amount of power and drains phone batteries quickly. Its privacy policy indicates that user information — including name, email, and age — is collected; parents of children under 13 must confirm their child’s account or contact The Pokemon 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.

It’s definitely an obsession – and it sure sounds like a lot of fun. The type of fun that has added 7.5 million dollars to Nintendo’s bottom line. What is exciting to us is that this represents the first widely used application of Augmented Reality – which has been around for a while but is now married up with the popular Pokemon characters, who are admirably cute, and familiar to gamers young and old.

What You’ll Need to Decide: This game will get your kids off the couch, without a doubt. But, is it educational? Does it count as screen time, which is always a parent’s concern, especially in the summer? And will it augment your family togetherness this summer — will you play together and bond over the fun, or let the kids loose to play alone? We’re sure there is lots of fun to be had, (and maybe something to learn as Lifehacker claims!) but as always, the choice is yours. It’s really about being educated, knowing your kids, and using common sense.

Potential Upside: Pokemon Go! has people out in the world, exploring and interacting with others – a stark contrast from the reality of most games, that are played alone in a room. We’ve been surprised that museums have so quickly set up Pokemon Go! “beams”, and posting them proudly on Instagram. Here’s one at the Skirball Cultural Center. The game poses a creative, new way for museums and other cultural institutions to invite visitors for safe exploration. We can only only hope that, once on campus, visitors will look at some art and realize what terrific places these museums are for just hanging out.  There are already PokeGyms popping up where folks can show up to play together. Here’s a piece from Polygon about getting started.

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Potential Downsides: There are real concerns, in this first mad wave of usage, about safety. Here is an article about unsafe application possibilities in the Wall Street Journal:

From the WSJ: The appearance of Pokémon, meanwhile, is generated randomly by an algorithm that matches creature characteristics with the geographic makeup of a player’s location in the real world—think the goldfish-like Magikarp appearing by a lake. Players could discover Pokémon in remote places, like a forested area of town, since the creatures can pop up almost anywhere a person has internet access and the app open. But players shouldn’t purposefully travel to hard-to-reach locations hoping to find prized rare creatures, Mr. Hanke said. There is no connection; creature rarity is entirely random.

And, we think this NYTimes article “Where Pokemon Should Not Go” is pretty much on point.

So, is it for you (and/or your kids?) Do your homework around the privacy issues. Then, make sure there are safety nets in place in the real world (i.e. you are playing in a location where you can wander and capture the cute creatures without driving off the road, falling into a fountain or other such unintended scenarios) and in the virtual world (that your data is not being mined or that you are being lured to a false, unsafe location where someone lurks to harm you).

Here is an article on LAist about good places to play in LA – no joke, folks are already dressing up and playing!

AR v.VR?

AR (augmented reality) may become an even more popular part of our future than VR (virtual reality, when you wear a headset like Occulus and sit in one place to have adventures). More than one reporter has mentioned that it’s like watching an old movie (think Mary Poppins) where cartoons interact with humans.  According to this article in FastCompany, Niantic is already using this technology in an earlier application (Ingress) but the marriage of the AR technology with the popularity of Pokemon’s characters is what has created the magic. Users already love Pokemon so take readily to this new iteration of the AR technology. Because VR is by nature more isolating, it may never reach the mainstream usage as this competitive, interactive AR application.