What is this new game sweeping the country?
Pokémon has returned. While it is not quite the same format as it was back in the day, Pokémon Go has brought back one of the most successful video game series in history. Pokémon Go is a free mobile application for Apple and Android.  While there is the ability to buy in-game currency (PokéCoins) allowing you to purchase more Pokéballs which are then used to catch the highly sought after Pokémon, most opt not to. It is literally sweeping the country!!  Last Saturday while my friends and I were walking through Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia we started to play a guessing game as to whether each person staring down at their phone was playing Pokémon Go – we were stunned at how accurate we were.

How does it work?
A feature that makes Pokémon Go unique to most ordinary mobile games is its use of your smart phone’s camera and GPS for real-world location and manipulation of your environment to show Pokémon near you. There is also the ability to customize your own virtual character and you can join teams of other players. The sudden increase of so many people staring down at their phones is because they are waiting for wild Pokémon to jump out and be caught. The Pokémon you catch can be used for battle at your local “gym”, a place for fellow Pokémon Go players to meet up and play against each other. Along with these “gyms,” there are a plethora of items to help you “level up” (or move up levels) located at predetermined landmarks, like national parks and monuments – and also some controversial sites.

Benefits? From a video game?
To be a successful Pokémon trainer one must devote a lot of time walking or biking. To hatch an egg you must walk 2 km or 5 km depending on the Pokémon (the sensors can detect whether you are driving or walking and if it detects that you are driving at over 15 MPH, it won’t work). In order to progress the game forces you to go outside, meet up with other players, and become familiar with your neighborhood through direct contact. Pokémon Go provides extra motivation to go out and exercise, and the activity, fresh air, and sunlight you get from walking can help to improve your health and your mood.  These are not benefits typically associated with video games.

Pokémon Go safety tips:
While there have been some accidents and incidents while playing the game, the health benefits certainly seem to outweigh the negatives. It is a great way for parents to encourage physical activity and as well as a great opportunity for parents to walk with their children and reinforce safe walking tips. That being said, here are a few important ones to remember:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and practice safe walking
    Every time you open Pokémon Go it instructs you to be aware and cognizant of the environment around you. Many just skip right through that screen so they can start playing, but it is something that should be taken seriously. This means do not go anywhere that you feel is unsafe and it’s probably best to avoid those controversial locations. Know where you are walking; analyze the safety of the areas you will be going; and look both ways before crossing the streets.
  • Be prepared with supplies
    When starting your Pokémon Go session, you never know how long or how far you will go. Ensure you have plenty of water for the journey, a charged phone battery, and sunscreen.  I recommend going no further than twice the distance you can walk since at some point you will have to turn around to go home.
  • Watch your stuff

You never know when a wild Pokémon will jump out and tempt you into catching it. Sometimes this is right out of the bushes next to you; sometimes this is from across the street. Wherever you must go in order fulfill your Pokémon Go appetite, make sure you keep an eye on your belongings.

  • Do not play Pokémon Go while riding your bike
    Using your bike to get to the location where there are Pokémon is a great idea, however, please do not use your phone while riding your bike. And, of course always wear your helmet.
  • Do not play Pokémon Go while driving
    It’s dangerous and illegal to use your phone while driving as evidenced by this Pokémon Go player.

For the first time maybe ever, a video game is successfully forcing gamers to get outside and actively explore their own neighborhood. Parents should take advantage of the game’s popularity and head out into their neighborhoods with their children to catch some Pokémon.  Gotta catch ‘em all!!!

Special thanks to our Research Associate, Ben Levy, for writing and contributing this scoop article!