A Guide for Families

About The Game

Pokémon Go is a location-based augmented reality mobile game.

It is a smartphone app available for Android® and iPhone® devices.

Pokémon is short for Pocket Monsters.

The game involves walking outdoors to find and capture imaginary magical creatures called Pokémon.

Players collect Pokémon, evolve them, and eventually use those powered-up creatures to take over Poké Gyms from other players.

Players can acquire Poké balls (little virtual devices used to capture the wandering creatures), as well as other healing and power-up prizes as they walk around.

Resources

Game Review

In any other time, if your kid brother, grandmother or slightly wacky Uncle Ned had said, "I'm going down the street to capture imaginary critters," you would have immediately dialed up the doc. But nowadays, in this new age of augmented reality games, well, you might just join in.

The mobile game Pokémon Go is quite literally sweeping the world in flash-mob style. And whether the game ultimately has the long-term footprint of a Mega Rayquaza or fizzles out fast like a flopping Magikarp, this new Pokémon-in-your-backyard amusement is certainly grabbing people's attention today.

How Does This Pokey Man Thing Work?

Let's start with a dash of history. Anyone who was paying closer attention to fads such as Beanie Babies and Furbys in the '90s might not have noticed when Pokémon phenomena first washed up on our shores back in 1998. The game was reportedly inspired by creator Satoshi Tajiri's love for insect-collecting as a boy. His game concept centered around a fantasy video game world full of magical creatures (instead of crickets and beetles) that players would collect, then "train and evolve," before sending them off to battle against other trainers' charges.

After twenty years of games (as well as ancillary trading cards, TV shows and movies), that basic concept is still the focus in Pokémon Go: Players collect Pokémon, evolve them, and eventually use those powered-up creatures to take over Poké Gyms from other players. The difference this go around is that it's all done in the real world.

Well, sorta.

You see, your smartphone and its camera become the "magical" eyepiece, so to speak, that help you spot the creatures out and about in your neighborhood. The app "skins" Google Maps with a virtual, treasure-hunting overlay. And as you walk down the street, the screen displays playgrounds, landmarks, businesses and parks (among other things) that have been assigned as PokéStops—places where you can acquire Poké Balls (little virtual devices used to capture the wandering critters), as well as other healing and power-up prizes.

There's One in My Living Room!

PokéStops are also great places to find Pokémon. The creatures can actually show up anywhere, from your bedroom closet to local landmarks, but PokéStops are surefire gathering grounds. Other trainers with phones in hand will often toss down a virtual "lure" at those stops that will cause Pokémon to start popping up for the next 30 minutes. And then it's just a matter of spotting them through the magic of your phone and tossing a Poké Ball at them with a finger stroke on your touchscreen.

Then, repeat that process several hundred times.

There are scores and scores of Pokémon to be found. And you'll need to find multiples of any given creature to make the first one you capture stronger. Every one you collect comes with accompanying stuff called "Stardust" and "Candy," and large quantities of those virtual substances are required for an upgrade. Only after many hours of collecting and traveling can you evolve your, say, Pidgey into a more powerful Pidgeotto.

But why go to all that trouble, you ask?

Well, besides the collecting challenge, you'll want to power-up and evolve your magical "Pocket Monsters" (which is what Pokémon is short for) in order for them to have enough "Combat Points" to stand even the slightest chance at competing against other trainers' Pokémon during battles. When you take your pumped-up Pokés to a virtual Gym (denoted on your phone's map), you'll find that someone has already claimed it with a powerful creature or creatures of their own. They don't even need to be there to join the battle, their Pokémon fights all on its own as you tap-tap-tap the screen in an effort to take it down and replace it with yours.

Then, repeat that process over and over, too.

PokéRepetition Go

A lot of people have rightly praised Pokémon Go for its meet-folks-in-the-park social interactivity and its ability to push young gamers outside to play. And those are cool elements of the game—especially if parents are deepening relationships by playing with their kids. But Pokémon Go is also a massive time-gobbler for anyone who really wants to be competitive at the Poké Gyms. There's no finesse in the battle side of things. You either have the biggest, baddest, pumped-up Pocket Monster around or you get virtually beaten to a pulp (though not in a graphic way).

And if you don't want to spend the myriad hours trying to maximize your Poké's virtual muscles, you'll can always spend actual cash. Ah, yes, that's how game's creators at Niantic hope to monetize this new augmented-gaming reality. At the app's built-in shop, players can use real-world money to buy everything from better Poké Balls to exotic Poké Eggs to special XP-boosts that help young gamers cut back on the time requirements. And that could potentially be an expensive proposition if not overseen by a level-headed adult.

Of course, we haven't even spoken about people walking off cliffs while glued to their phone screens in search of a rare find. (Really. That happened to two oblivious players in California.) Or kids encountering unsavory sorts during their hunts. Or the problem of buggy servers that crash over and over.

And then there's the overarching Pokémon worldview, one that has always revolved around an Eastern-inspired blend of mystical creatures combined with evolution. In the case of this game, that spirituality has been dialed back considerably since there's really no story to tell here. But it's still part of the franchise's overall milieu.

So, it seems only wise to suggest that those planning to jump on this new "gotta catch 'em all" bandwagon take a little time to consider their steps, both figuratively … and in reality. If you need more help navigating the obscure world of Pokémon Go, download our Pokémon Go Guide for Parents that highlights discerning discussion points to help you decide what is best for your kids.

From the Focus on the Family website at focusonthefamily.com. © 2016 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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Playing Pokémon Go as a Family

I admit it. I enjoy playing the occasional video game with my kids, so when Pokémon Go was released, it seemed like a great opportunity to spend time outside with them. I downloaded the app on my phone, signed in with my Google account, and after I picked a name and style for my on-screen character, I was in.

My first expedition into this imaginary world was taken with my 5-year-old son, Thad. We walked around a few blocks in our neighborhood, but neither of us knew exactly how the game worked. It wasn’t until the app signaled that we were close to a Pokémon that we figured it out. We simply tapped the little icon that appeared, and a little capture mini-game began. After a few attempts, we had successfully snagged our first imaginary creature. For over an hour, we had a blast together as we "hunted."

During the next few days, Thad would say, “Remember our Pokémon hunt, Dad? Let’s do that again!"

My two oldest boys, Cale (9) and Megersa (6), have become the biggest Pokémon fans in our family. They were quick to jump into the fun as soon as they realized that their favorite characters from the screen seemed to come alive. I don’t even need to Google for the info on a Pokémon when Megersa's nearby because he's my knowledge base for all the details about each creature.

Over time, my wife, Katie, heard about the adventures I was enjoying with the kids, and she wanted in on the fun. After going to the library with them one morning, she decided to take the kids on a walk downtown. They caught several Pokémon and discovered a few landmarks in the process.

Anyone who has been a collector — of sports cards, coins, stamps — understands the drive that kicks in and pushes you to complete the collection. Pokémon Go is exactly that — a collection. My wife and I both enjoy that aspect of it, along with how it’s another active way to spend time together as a family.

Benefits

As my family and I have gone on these little adventures together, I've come to realize that my older boys are ready for some real-world hiking and camping trips (separate from Pokémon Go, of course). Also, my wife and I have learned more about the personalities of each of our kids as we get to see the way they react to both disappointment and victory.

As we work together, the kids take turns catching the Pokémon while the rest of us cheer them on. Cale often takes charge and establishes the rules for how the turns will work, and we are more than happy to let him keep things organized. We get to watch our kids interact with each other on our journeys and announce their catches with excited shouts or exclamations. The only competitive issue we face is making sure each kid has equal playing time, which is a never-ending challenge for most activities.

I’ve been especially proud of our other 5-year-old son, Shepherd, as his natural tendency to share and help others has come to the forefront during our family treks. On more than one occasion, he has given up his turn because a favorite Pokémon of one of his siblings came into view.

However, it’s not only the kids enjoying the experience. Throughout the day, my wife and I send each other pictures of our latest catches, and tips on where to stop on the way home. We are sharing the same adventure, which makes the experience that much more fun.

As a family, we are invested in the game. It isn’t a chore to show genuine excitement over what our kids have collected or for them to show excitement over what we’ve found. This game allows us to have fun together while still moving toward an agreed-upon goal.

It would be easy to hand the phone to our kids and send them out the door, but there’s a real opportunity to enjoy and use our imaginations when we play together.

It’s easy to criticize a game or mobile app for keeping families glued to a screen — and that’s a valid criticism. But Pokémon Go gives my entire family a reason to get outdoors together, which is refreshing.

Boundaries

The biggest boundary that adults face with Pokémon Go is to avoid using the phone while driving. That’s true of all phone usage, of course, but because this game throws so much at you based on your location, it’s tempting to check what’s nearby at each stoplight.

Up to this point, setting time limits for playing Pokémon Go hasn’t been necessary for us. With my young kids, the biggest boundary that we’ve put in place is that they need to ask permission to use a parent's phone. Since we aren’t yet ready for our children to have their own phones, it would be great to see the game supported on kid-friendly devices.

If that were to happen, though, my wife and I would probably need to set other boundaries, such as 1) Don’t play until your chores and homework are done; 2) Don’t go to places that you haven’t asked permission to go; 3) Know the places that are appropriate for hunting, such as parks, and the places that aren’t, such as the backyards of strangers or in church. Also, because of the potential for ads to eventually be incorporated into this game, we would want to keep the lines of communication open with our children.

When Katie and I have an afternoon free to take a walk or when we are going for a drive, we will often pass the phones to the kids and let them catch away. We monitor what is happening through what our children say, and at this point, we don’t have to worry about their buying in-app purchases. If they eventually want items that go with this game, they will have to work — in the real world —for the money they need.

Teachable moments

Over the past several days, as we’ve had more active, outdoor family bonding time because of this game, Katie and I have taken the opportunity to talk with our kids about understanding the difference between real life and make-believe. Whether we are watching a Disney movie, pretending to be army men, playing with stuffed animals or catching Pokémon, we make sure each of our kids has a healthy understanding of what we’re doing.

While outside, we’ve all paused to reflect on God’s creation on more than one of our Pokémon Go adventures. There have even been times when I’ve put the phone in my pocket and said, “For the next few minutes, let’s see what real creatures we can find that God created.” It’s a great reminder to each of us that although Pokémon Go is a fun game, it’s just a game. The real wonder comes from being out in nature and having fun as a family.

While on a walk with my daughter, Neve (3), a few nights ago, in between catching Pokémon, we talked about every topic under the sun. She was thrilled to have one-on-one time with her daddy, and playing the game kept us moving and having fun.

Because the game features an “augmented reality” mode, it can use the phone camera to make it look like the Pokémon are in the actual environment around us. At one point during our adventure, my daughter spotted our neighbor’s cat and shouted, as she tried to catch it, “Oh look! A kitty Pokémon!" The experience was priceless.

And now it's time for another teachable moment.

From the Focus on the Family website at focusonthefamily.com. © 2016 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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Pokémon Go: What Parents Should Know

By Adam Holz

"Dad, Dad, can we download Pokémon Go?!"

If you've got children and have a smartphone, there's a good chance you, too, have been asked that question. If you're like me, when my 9-year-old first asked it, I didn't have much idea what he was talking about. I knew this mobile video game was based on the two-decades-old Pokémon franchise, but that was it.

I assumed this fad would slip off his radar.

I was half right.

It is the latest fad. But it did not slip off his radar. Or anyone else's. In fact, Pokémon Go has morphed into a cultural tsunami that's sweeping up players young (and not so young) around the world.

So what is Pokémon Go? And how do we, as parents, think wisely and discerningly about it?

Pokémon Go is a new breed of video game called "augmented reality." Players walk around — looking at a virtual map on their smartphones that corresponds with the real world — to capture the magical, imaginary creatures known as Pokémon (short for "Pocket Monsters"). Once players snare enough digital critters and gain sufficient experience, they can challenge others at virtual Pokémon Gyms (locations where players gather to battle).

The game is pretty simple.

The question of whether (or how) parents should let their kids play is more complex, because there are real pros and cons.

The pros

On the plus side, Pokémon Go encourages active movement. It's not a game your child can sit on the couch and play for hours on end. Instead, it requires walking through the environment around you, looking at the map to identify where Pokémon might be lurking.

The cons

But that upside is connected to the game's biggest downside, too: Wandering around staring at a phone isn't the safest activity. In the two weeks since the game was released, we've heard stories of people walking off cliffs, getting trapped in a mine, and having a car accident. Unsuspecting players have even been lured into areas where they've been assaulted and robbed.

Pros and cons 

Another glass-half-full, glass-half-empty aspect of the game has to do with how relational it can potentially be … or not.

After I downloaded the game to research it for Plugged In, I was flabbergasted to discover how many people — perhaps 50 or so — were playing at a local park. I interacted with more than a dozen folks over the course of a two-hour walk. So there's potential for community and relationship with other players who are out and about playing the game. On the other hand, the idea of young fans interacting with random strangers out on the streets should give parents considerable pause, too.

Likewise, Pokémon Go offers potential for parents and kids to bond over the game. My son and I have enjoyed playing together as we've hunted Pikachus and Charizards. It's given me a chance to cultivate my relationship with him on his turf.

That said, my son tends to become so engrossed in the game that my presence mostly becomes about playing safety cop to make sure he doesn't wander into the street. In that sense, Pokémon Go shares the same potential problem that all well-designed video games have: the tendency to become compulsive. Just because a player is walking outside doesn't mitigate the possibility for unhealthy (or even addictive) engagement in the quest to "catch 'em all," as Pokémon's slogan encourages.

It should also be noted that Pokémon's overarching worldview is a magical, vaguely Eastern-inspired one paired with nods to evolution (creatures can, essentially, become bigger, better versions of themselves throughout the game). That worldview is definitely one that parents of young fans should be aware of and talk about, especially if Pokémon Go spurs interest in diving deeper into the myriad other Pokémon video games, TV shows, movies and trading cards out there.

Pokémon Go represents an intriguing paradigm shift for video games. For parents, though, it's just the latest opportunity we have to think wisely about how our families interact with entertainment media. This challenge is new, but our job remains the same as it's always been: setting wise, informed, appropriate boundaries for our children.

Pokémon Go offers families an opportunity for exercise and relationship … but only if we pay attention together to wise boundaries and guard against becoming so engrossed in an imaginary world that we lose sight of the real one.

© 2016 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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What Is Pokémon's Worldview?

By Adam Holz

Pokémon splashed down on American shores in 1998. Since then, it has spawned a massive multimedia franchise that includes a trading card game, video games, animated television shows, movies and even soundtracks. How massive, you ask? Nearly $50-billion-in-worldwide-sales massive. (Yes, that's billion, with a B.)

And that figure doesn't include the recent Pokémon Go video game phenomenon, one that will likely see sales and interest in all things Pikachu-related go through the roof once more.

Given the popularity and influence of Pokémon around the world, it's natural for parents to wonder what it's all about. And for parents, a more specific concern is this: What is Pokémon's worldview? What ideas, beliefs and perspectives might young players encounter if they wander into the world of these imaginary "Pocket Monsters"?

The answer to that question is a somewhat qualified, "It depends." For casual enthusiasts — those who never go much deeper than games like Pokémon Go — there's not really a great deal to grapple with. The deeper players do go into this world, however, the longer the list of potential issues that parents may want to address.

The battle's the thing

The core of the narrative of Pokémon Go is pretty straightforward. Humans, known as trainers, use red and white Poké Balls to capture imaginary creatures known as Pokémon. These lil' critters take on all manner of fantastical shapes and sizes, but generally reflect things found in nature (animals, plants, natural objects).

Once they've been captured, they bond enthusiastically with their trainers, who take them to Poké Gyms to battle other Pokémon. Every Pokémon has specific magic-like attacks related to its type. Success in battle yields increased abilities. Some Pokémon then have the ability to "evolve" into more powerful versions of their kind, a metamorphosis that might best be compared to, say, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

No matter which iteration of Pokémon players encounter, that's pretty much the core of the story. And in some of the simpler expressions of it — such as Pokémon Go, for instance — that's as far as things ever really go. It's all about capturing these pocket monsters and giving them a chance to square off against each other in something like a magical karate ring. Obviously, there's an imaginary world woven into this story, but it doesn't drift too far toward ideas that would automatically raise red flags for discerning parents.

Going deeper

Young players who become infatuated with the Pokémon world, however, may want to go deeper. And with 20 years of this franchise's video games, movies, TV shows, comics, books and trading cards available, there's a lot that they can explore. Those who go deeper — especially if playing the card game — will be exposed to ideas that while not occultic, per se, definitely move in directions parents might be less than comfortable with.

Pokémon are divided into types, for example. Among the 18 types are many that might be described as elemental: fire, rock, grass, water, ground, steel, ice and electric types. Several types are related to spiritual concepts, specifically ghost, psychic and fairy types. Still other types have ominous-sounding descriptors, such as the dark, dragon and poison types.

Each type of Pokémon has specific attacks, strengths and weaknesses. To master the game — especially the card game — players must develop a detailed understanding of how various Pokémons' abilities interact with each other. Gleaning that understanding necessitates plunging into the many print and internet resources fleshing out the minutia of this multifaceted milieu.

Young players who are prone to getting lost in imaginative worlds have a big one to explore here. It's as complex and richly detailed as the basic game is simple and straightforward. Enthusiasts with a personality type that likes to "figure it all out" or to develop encyclopedic knowledge of their areas of interest may find Pokémon an endlessly immersive realm, one that can shift from being creatively compelling to becoming unhealthily compulsive or addictive.

And it goes without saying — but I'll say it anyway — Pokémon can become an expensive realm to explore, too. Because let's face it, no franchise hits the $50 billion mark without offering stuff that kids want to buy. Pokémon's frequent content additions — whether it's new card sets, new games or new books — means there's also something new to purchase.

Navigating fantastical worlds

Those of us with children who are interested in Pokémon will have to weigh whether the franchise's inclusion of magical components, as well as its focus on elemental and spiritual ideas (some of which echo paganism's historical emphasis on the earth and created things), mean that it's out of bounds. Many parents will decide that's the only discerning choice to make here. Others may decide similarly given the franchise's potentially compulsive components, as well as the amount of money it can take to play.

Parents who say yes to Pokémon need to actively engage with this particular imaginative world with their children. Look for ways to compare and contrast the game's themes with those of your own beliefs. For example, Pokémon Go imagines a world full of these magical creatures all around us.

Overall, the Pokémon franchise probably isn't the most problematic pop culture property out there. But neither is it completely innocuous. Families need to approach its potential philosophical and pragmatic problems with discernment and wisdom.

© 2016 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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