Pokémon are everywhere….
The latest reinvention of this gaming phenomenon is going viral. It’s called Pokémon Go and it’s the biggest trend in kid culture this summer (and probably this year). In this article, I’m trying to explain the game and offer a basic guide to what parents need to know about Pokémon Go.
It’s the classic capture-train-battle imaginary animals game with a twist. This version exists on smartphones and is taking “augmented reality” mainstream. Basically, the game uses your GPS data and phone’s camera to turn the real world into a gaming environment. You have to go places, like public parks or restaurants, to make progress. For example, they designated our church parking lot is a “Pokémon stop” which helps players refill items in the game. Here’s a video to explain more or read this or this parents guide.
My boys have been waiting, actually pestering me non-stop, to try the game. We installed it Saturday night and can already see why it’s so appealing. Almost instantly, we were catching Pokemon in our driveway. Then we walked up the street to catch a few more. Across town it showed other game features and even a battle gym. So I drove the boys over to check it out. The whole adventure was exciting and made for some fun family time.
Then on Sunday we spent some time at a local park. To my surprise, Pokémon trainers were everywhere. We ran across 50+ other people searching in the park. Some were teenagers, but many were young adults in groups without kids. The game experience didn’t show these people nearby, but the virtual game locations (a battle gym and multiple Pokémon stops) were bringing people from across the city.
Today, we played a little in our own yard and achieved a basic level promotion that unlocks more of the social features of the game. Then we tried out the battle gym feature. Basically, it’s like a digital Pokémon battle. We lost, but expect to do better with some training. To play properly, it will mean walking many miles each week.
I’m not sure what’s next, but we are proceeding with caution. I will predict this game has staying power after the buzz wears down. For kids, it may be their favorite game for some time. Don’t miss my discussion of parental concerns below. One upside, our kids don’t own smartphones so they are only going to play with me nearby.
Parents Will Have Concerns about Pokémon Go
Like the original Pokémon, this new digital version will puzzle many parents. As Time magazine report, there is much for parents to fear. That’s true, even with the positive storylines about kids getting outside more. Like any new fad in kids culture, Christian parents need to be wise.
Like anything that comes “from the world,” those of us within the church have different reactions. I started a conversation about this on the excellent “Children’s Pastors Only” Facebook group and most responses fall into four categories. I’m starting a poll to hear what you think.
Some Christian parents are worried the game is tied to occult symbols or otherwise a spiritual danger to kids. That’s a matter of conscience, but a question worth asking. Several readers have responded to this post with those concerns. If that’s your case, then obviously the game is not a good fit for your family. I’m not convinced it’s spiritually dangers (we are playing as a family), but you should draw your own conclusions.
Editor’s Update: One reader shared her experience and concerns that this type of games will open children to demonic influence. That is beyond the normal way I think about demons. I tend to associate them with the serious evil acts, typically things that are defacing (or denying) the image of God in other people. Something like terrorism, child abuse, human trafficking, and related violence. So the cartoon monsters in kids game didn’t really rise to that level of danger. I certainly don’t encourage anyone to trespass their own God-given conscience on this issue, no child’s game would be worth that.
Some have noted positive effects of this game. Kids getting exercise and going outside is a big benefit.
#PokemonGO has done more to combat childhood obesity in 24 hours than Michelle Obama has in the past eight years.
— PokemonGo™ (@MustCatchEmAll) July 11, 2016
On the hand, we should be careful. Augmented reality gaming is new experience and clearly a safety concern. Players must play close attention to their surroundings. GPS maps could lead gamers into private property or make them less aware of car traffic. Even walking around with my kids it was hard to stay focused on the real situation with cars. This game could turn tragic if a player was attempted to drive and track down Pokémon.
Kids playing social game has always been a concern for parents. So far this game has kept us anonymous online. In the real world this game breaks down social barriers, we started several conversations with other players in the park. That was no danger while I was with my boys, but I’m not comfortable with those interactions had I not been present.
Update: 5 days later the game has continued to enable family time. My wife launched her own account and it gives us another reason to get out and walk once the kids are in bed. The main frustration has been server outage. It’s been a positive thing for our summer family routine. We’ve made a few more rules, like never looking at the phone while you’re in the road or behind the wheel.
Others might have privacy concerns. All your GPS date and camera data are being sent back to the game servers. This opens the door for digital snooping, but no more than most apps on your phone. There was a major glitch on the early versions of this game on iPhone too, but that has been corrected according to game makers. Church Leaders has another helpful article on this new game.
My Advice for Parents
- Set boundaries now. With any new technology, augmented reality gaming will be coming to more games than Pokémon Go. This fad will fade away, but the new way of using smartphones + GPS will be more popular in coming years. Many parents (myself included) don’t think kids need cell phones until they are driving.
- Don’t violate your conscience. I want to respect parents who are worried about the spiritual side of this game. I am getting lots of email, but I still am not convinced. On the other hand, I don’t think it wise for any parents to violate their conscience. In my family we are enjoying the game, but also talking about the spiritual issues of imagination, games, and evolution – but we are having fun too. I consider it a teaching moment.
- Keep an open mind. Just because it’s new and silly doesn’t mean it’s demonic. I’ll be careful here because I don’t want to cause unnecessary offense. I haven’t seen a responsible theological argument against this game. I consider it an issue of conscience and Gospel liberty. Christians have been quick to disparage technology, but slow to focus on loving others. I think this is an opportunity to connect with real humans, those who bear the image of God. I don’t want my fundamentalist background to keep me from fulfilling the second commandment.
- Use this for relationships. I’ve spent more time with my boys playing this game than doing much else this summer. I know that’s sad, but it’s a reality of busy lives. Like talking sports with my older kids, this is a way for us to relate and find shared interest. We make shared decisions about our shared game account and it’s bringing us closer together.
- Don’t walk in the road. With any distraction, you have got to stay away from cars. We’ve decided only to play in areas where the sidewalk is wide and we can feel safe in our surroundings. This is easy in our historic and wonderfully safe small town Indiana. I don’t know how it works in other cities. We’ve also chosen (along with my boys input) not to play while the car is driving. Even if they are holding the phone, the excitement of the game could distract me while I’m behind the wheel. I’m certain there will be tragedies on the news next week from people not looking before crossing the road.
Is Pokémon Go a Ministry Opportunity?
I’ve already read something about this. Churches (as well as businesses) are thinking this could be a way to attract new people, especially kids. I don’t expect that will work out for most. There may be some ways to incorporate Pokémon into a lesson plan, it’s still just a game. Most people will move on to some other interest.
The real opportunity is making new friends. Like we experienced in the park, strangers are open to talking about this phenomenon. Here is a really interesting article about that aspect of the game. Like any other shared interest, you could connect with someone new and find a new acquaintance. That’s a totally normal thing, with or without Pokémon Go.
I don’t care if #PokemonGO is dead in 2 weeks- the phenomena of all these people interacting in today’s society is incredible and uplifting.
— Jimmy Wong (@jfwong) July 10, 2016
Things they don’t teach you in seminary: pic.twitter.com/18MphWvke2
— Sam Rainer (@SamRainer) July 12, 2016
What do you think about Pokémon Go?
I’d love to have some reader feedback on this game. What is your first impression? Should parents be concerned? Are you playing alongside your kids? Leave a comment below to share your opinion. It’s okay to disagree, but we’re not really a debate style blog. Please post anything you feel is helpful to other parents.