Gaming app Pokémon Go became a sensation almost from the first instant of its July 2016 launch. Fans of the app credit Pokémon Go with encouraging users to exercise, sightsee, and interact with each other and their local neighborhoods. But with those many benefits come some very real and surprising concerns.
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is a free, app-based game which creates a virtual world utilizing the player’s GPS location. The object of the game is to catch as many Pokémon characters as possible within this virtual world. Players navigate their surroundings using a virtual map displayed on their smartphone or device. When they approach a Pokémon, the camera on their device activates to allow them to “capture” the character. Players can also obtain free items at designated “Pokéstops”, many of which correspond to churches, landmarks, and public areas.
What’s the danger in playing Pokémon Go?
Like many other apps, Pokémon Go is designed to be fun and innovative, not to compromise players’ safety. However, Pokémon Go represents a relatively new platform that blends real and virtual worlds in a way that can become confusing and potentially dangerous even for older, more experienced gamers. When you further consider the large percentage of players who are underage—and therefore less likely to be aware of safety issues—it’s not hard to see why there could be problems. Additionally, there are always predators who will seek to exploit a game’s popularity in order to bait others into becoming their victims. At the time of this writing, numerous robberies, auto accidents, and other reported crimes across the nation have already been attributed to Pokémon Go.
The good news is that it’s not that difficult to enjoy Pokémon Go safely. Just a few simple, common-sense tips can improve your or your child’s gameplay experience and help you to avoid the potential pitfalls presented by Pokémon Go and other similar apps.
Be aware of your surroundings
Don’t stay glued to your screen while you hunt for Pokémon. Be courteous to others, especially while walking. When you approach a road or intersection, don’t walk out into traffic. Cross at the safest place possible, and—particularly where no signals or crosswalks are available—always look both ways before you cross.
Take note when your search may bring you onto private property. You could be charged with trespassing, especially if you fail to leave when the property owner asks you to. Be careful not to loiter in front of other people’s homes or businesses, as well.
Don’t go anywhere you wouldn’t normally go, and be mindful of who you encounter
As players of the game are no doubt aware, Pokémon Go allows users to set virtual “beacons” in areas where Pokémon have been spotted. When these “beacons” are set in remote or otherwise dangerous locations, there is always the potential that they might be leading you into an unsafe situation. Don’t go anywhere you wouldn’t normally go when trying to capture Pokémon. You could easily be ambushed in out-of-the-way places, abandoned spaces, or other unsafe areas. Stick with well-traveled, public places when playing—criminals who are on the lookout for victims aren’t as likely to find those areas enticing.
Just as with any online interaction, it’s also smart to be wary of anyone who seeks your friendship, especially if you’re underage. While most people playing Pokémon Go are simply enjoying the game, there may be sexual predators who regard it as a means to meet and befriend children.
There’s also something to be said for safety in numbers. Whenever possible, play with a friend or relative. This would drastically reduce many of the potential dangers associated with playing Pokémon Go: Not only would this make you less of an easy target for predatory individuals, but you’d also have another person available to be on the lookout for hazards in your immediate surroundings.