In a short time, Pokémon Go has taken entire countries by storm. Crowds are gathering, stampedes are forming, cars are crashing, and people are falling off of cliffs. I am not in the habit of blaming video games when things go wrong. In fact, here at LearningWorks for Kids we actively advocate for digital play. But there’s no denying Pokémon Go is different.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality (AR) game (okay, location-based game if we’re being technical) developed by Niantic, the studio that brought us Ingress. Pokémon Go uses a player’s phone camera and GPS position to place game elements over their actual, physical environment. That’s why your in-game map looks a lot like Google Maps. And it’s why there’s a Squirtle hiding in your laundry room, the World War II monument in the middle of town is a PokéStop, and the local bakery doubles as a Gym.
Tracking Pokémon in the game is a delicate, sometimes confusing operation. A list of nearby Pokémon gives a player an idea of which one is closest, and tapping on one of those Pokémon will reveal its approximate distance. Then, a player must move their phone around in order to figure out which way to start walking. You might understand how some players with hyperfocus might walk headfirst into trouble.
The good news is that teaching your child responsible Pokémon Go play is possible (necessary, honestly), and it also has some unexpected benefits, like some good thinking skill practice. Here are just a few of the skills your child will practice by being a responsible Pokémon Go player.
Focus – Focus is all about paying attention to what you are doing without getting distracted. When it comes to an AR game like Pokémon Go, however, this means splitting attention between two different worlds — one’s screen and one’s surroundings. Help your child come up with a system for checking in with the game at reasonable intervals so that their primary focus is where it should be: the real world.
Working memory – Working memory is the skill that will help your child keep goals and information in mind without having to keep their eyes on the screen, allowing them to be more aware of their physical surroundings.
Self-control – Teaching kids that their primary concern should be to watch where they are walking or biking is good practice for self-control, too. There will also be times when a Pokémon isn’t easily or safely obtainable, or is on private property. It’s important that they learn how to say no to a capture or save a capture for later, when there’s more time, a helping hand, or permission.
Flexibility – Choosing not to trespass to make a capture or catch a Pokémon in a dangerous area, or deciding to come back to a capture later with help or permission, takes cognitive flexibility, too.
Self-awareness – Hazards aren’t always environmental. Playing in more crowded areas can be problematic, whether the other pedestrians are players or “civilians.” Being polite and understanding and maintaining a clear understanding of where they are in relation to others and being courteous and cooperative can help your child avoid arguments and altercations with other people.
Time management – Teach your child the dangers of playing Pokémon Go in a hurry. Poor decisions are often made when we are in a rush. Bumping into people, not paying attention to traffic, and running on unsafe terrain can all be avoided when players give themselves enough time to play.
Planning – Time management and planning go hand-in-hand. Kids should learn to plan for a Pokémon Go session, with options for snacks, a good charge on their phone so that they can still use it for emergencies, and the knowledge that, at some point, they will need to decide when they need to say no to a Pokémon and head back home safely and on time.
You can teach your kids responsible Pokémon Go play most effectively by playing with them. Read why our founder and president, Dr. Randy Kulman, recommends this so highly. You should also check out this video by our Let’s Play editor Ryan Smith, which helps parents through the basics of the game. Our Pokémon GO Playbook is available now. Are you enjoying Pokémon Go? Let us know in the comments or come join the conversation on Facebook.
Featured image: Flickr user Jill Carlson