It’s the latest craze for kids aged 5 to 50. Its innovative, it gets kids out of the house, and has the excitement of a non-stop treasure hunt – but are our children at risk while glued to the small screen?
The obvious risk of a child not looking where they are going with their eyes glued to an iPhone and walking into danger is a real one, but when you understand the game in more detail, more subtle risks emerge.
The basics: Pokémon GO is a smart phone game that places little furry creatures (Pokémon) throughout the REAL world by using the GPS tracking of the phone and a google maps type display. As your child walks along the street, their in-game character moves on the map of the phone – the phone guides them to the virtual Pokémon that then can be seen on the display on the phone.
The idea is to catch wild Pokémon, feed them up, evolve them into bigger Pokémon, then fight them against other player’s Pokémon.
In-game items for Pokémon are obtained at hubs called Pokestops, and battles happen at Pokegyms. These are real world places (parks, shopping centres, landmarks, and even police stations) that show up on the in-game map as Pokémon hubs.
The concept sounds amazing to children and the young at heart, and while the thrill of the hunt can be great fun, it might also place children in positions of peril.
As the Pokémon hubs are fixed places, there is the potential for attracting people more interested in catching children, rather than Pokémon.
You might think parks and shopping centres have always been a target spots for child predators, however, there are Pokémon in-game “lures” that can be placed at the hubs to attract Pokémon to the hub so people can catch the Pokémon easier. These lures have a 30 min timer, so as well as luring Pokémon to be caught, they also may have a pied piper effect on nearby children.
The nature of the tracking device allows children to triangulate which way to walk to hunt a Pokémon. Once they find the one they were tracking, the next one is just around the corner, and then there is bigger one just down the street, and then there is one they have never seen before 2 blocks away, and then…well, you get the picture.
While technology and innovation is fantastic and exciting, we think it is also important to understand the potential risk that this game may cause to the safety of younger children.
If the Pokémon craze strikes a chord with your youngster we strongly recommend close supervision. Perhaps the old adage “if you cant beat them, join them” might apply? It could present as an opportunity to interact with your child as well as make sure they are safe.