The Unexpected Gift of Pokémon Go

by ParentCo. July 15, 2016

We don’t need yet another reason not to look up from from our phones.

We’re already so addicted to them that that much of America sleeps next to them, eats next to them, and can barely hold a conversation without Googling something, every time there’s a lull.

But, is the Pokémon Go craze that's swept the nation a different story? And, if it is, should we let the kids play?

My son has autism, and his comfort zone is exactly the size of our house. I am always game to try anything that gets him O-U-T with me. When I heard that the crux of this game involved moving through public spaces to play, it piqued my interest. It involved technology – something we reserve as a treat – and it snuck in movement. I was all ears.

So, what is it?

If you can remember the Pokémon craze of the 90s, you're halfway to understanding the basic concept. Pokémon never really went away. It’s the same Nintendo material, it’s just revised to imagine that the Pokémon creatures have jumped from fantasy to reality, inhabiting our world. This concept is called augmented reality, providing players a new way to game.

Currently, the game is a free download for iOS and Android users. Of course, game makers wouldn’t be able to make money if they didn’t charge for something, right? So, there are monetized items for purchase within the game. But honestly, my son and I have been casually playing for a week, and have not found the need to purchase a thing.

There've been a few privacy concerns surrounding the game, so you'll want to be aware of how to protect your privacy before downloading. For more on that, read this piece from The New York Times.

The game works by connecting to your GPS and your clock. A map pops up on your screen, showing you which Pokémon are in your area, based on your time and location. This allows you to catch them, and encourages you to move to new locations to catch them all! The game has the original 151 Pokémon of the 90s.

PokéStops are also marked on your game-map. These are notable locations in your community, or beyond. These can be anything from landmarks to buildings, signs or parks. At these stops you can find items you need to help you with the game.

Some stops have come under fire, such as the Holocaust museum, and the 9/11 memorial. People are concerned that it’s disrespectful for gameplay to be held at these locations. Others have argued that some of the players stopping at these locations may otherwise never have visited, and therefore believe it's an opportunity to reach people and educate them.

My son, because of his autism, has social anxiety issues. With Pokémon Go, I’m watching him greet strangers for the first time. He’s so swept up in playing, he glides down the street with joyful abandon. I’m watching him smile, nod, and say, “Hello!”

I’ve also watched him leap out of bed every morning, this week, begging me to take him on nature walks, hikes, and to places far outside the living room of our home. He’s dropped the headphones that he usually brings, and he’s gleefully skipping along next to me. It's a gift.

Of course, it's not a gift for everyone. There have been reports of people getting into car accidents because they're playing while driving. PokéStops with rare Pokémon have caused communities to become overrun with people. Places like Central Park are becoming almost crazed. And, there was one report of armed men attempting to use the game to lure players into a trap. As with any video game, players need to be smart and stay safe.

Our family plans to keep playing. Pokémon Go has gotten us up and off our butts, and out into the outdoors. It’s a rare when video game technology doesn’t force a player to sit in isolation. My boy has captured about 50 Pokémon, and has proudly walked close to ten miles in the past week.

We’ve seen things we wouldn't have, had we been locked inside. We’ve visited new buildings, and had conversations with friendly members of our community. We sampled cuisine at cafes, and smiled at other patrons. We laughed and held hands.

To me, all of that is absolutely worth a dead battery and a strained data plan.

I say “go” to Pokémon Go!



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