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A Pokémon GO user locates a Pokémon in Times Square, New York City.
Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
This detail of Pokémon GO on a mobile phone shows Pikachu, one of the most popular Pokémon, in Tokyo, Japan, on the day the game was released there this summer.
Kyodo News via Getty Images
A Pokémon is found near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
How Will Pokémon GO Play Out?
Should kids be playing this summer’s smash-hit game, Pokémon GO?

Jennifer Marino Walters

This summer, millions of Americans went monster hunting. They searched on streets, in parks, on beaches, and in stores. They weren’t really looking for wild beasts. They were playing Pokémon GO, a hit mobile game that took the country by storm.

Since its U.S. release on July 6, Pokémon GO has become the most successful mobile game of all time. It is now played in about 70 countries and has been downloaded more than half a billion times worldwide. While the game clearly has many fans, not everyone thinks the latest Pokémon craze is a good thing. Some people say the risks of playing the game outweigh the fun.

A WILD IDEA

To play Pokémon GO, users follow digital maps on their phones that show virtual creatures, called Pokémon, in real-life locations. Players have to walk around those locations in search of Pokémon and try to capture as many as possible. (Kids under the age of 13 are allowed to play, but a parent or guardian has to create an account and add a child.)

Fans of the game say it gets kids off the couch and encourages them to explore new places and make new friends. That’s what Christine Elgersma likes about it. She is a senior apps editor for Common Sense Media, an organization that works to help parents, teachers, and kids make informed choices about the different media available for children.

“One of the biggest benefits of the game is getting out in the world and moving instead of just sitting and looking at a screen,” Elgersma says. She adds that the game has also helped bring shy kids out of their shells. “Kids who are usually afraid to talk to people are now interacting with others.”

Some educators are finding that Pokémon GO can also sharpen kids’ map skills. Social studies teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe told Education Week that the game “is a springboard for learning urban geography and the history of a region.”

A DANGEROUS DISTRACTION?

Other experts say that kids focus so much on their phones that it doesn’t matter that they are outside. Brain scientist Kristen Race warns that Pokémon GO gets in the way of real imaginative play. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, she argues that “even though a child may be playing this game outside, his brain is functioning in the exact same way it would if he were spending hours in an arcade.”

There are some risks in playing Pokémon GO as well. One of the biggest dangers is being distracted by the game. People have walked into things, fallen down, and even been hit by cars while playing. Two players in California had to be rescued after falling from a 90-foot ocean cliff in July. People have also gotten into trouble by getting lost or accidentally trespassing on private property while trying to catch Pokémon.

PLAY IT SAFE

Elgersma says there are plenty of things kids can do to stay safe while playing Pokémon GO. She advises kids to discuss with their parents what they are allowed to do before playing. They should also pay careful attention to their surroundings and avoid talking to strangers. Finally, they should limit the amount of time they spend playing.

“Just like every other digital-media game, Pokémon GO should be used in balance with other things,” says Elgersma. “If it is, it can be a really great way for a family to bond and have fun together.”