Common Sense Rules for Pokémon GO and Other Games

Tips for augmented reality games


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Photo courtesy of Matthew Corley/Shutterstock.com

Pokémon GO may be the first breakthrough game to use augmented reality, but it certainly won’t be the last. The boundaries between virtual and tangible worlds have been blurring for a long time, and new games fuse the two into one irresistible package. 

As everyone knows by now, Pokémon GO pops up tiny monsters everywhere from museums and malls to backyards and kitchens. Entire families have cheerfully headed out into their neighborhoods and beyond to collect as many monsters as they can. So far so good.

But augmented reality also creates risks. Thinking through the pros and cons of Pokémon GO gives parents a good platform for making common sense rules about the many augmented reality games that are likely to follow. As you develop family guidelines, keep these four Ps in mind.

Permissions. Children under age 13 can’t sign up for games unless they have permission from parents. That’s a reminder that younger children need augmented supervision in augmented reality. Play together if you can. Or ask your child to walk you (literally) through the game so you can see and comment on what’s fun and what’s risky.

Augmented reality apps also ask for permissions when they are installed, and parents should get in the habit of reviewing every request. Obviously, smartphones hold lots of information — whom a child knows, where she hangs out, what photos she has taken, what social media she uses. This information may seem trivial, but it’s catnip to marketers.

The best policy is to give each app as little permission as possible. Pokémon Go, for example, needs access to the phone’s camera but not contact information. To revise your choices after installation, find the Settings icon on the phone. Find the relevant app and uncheck as many boxes as possible.

Place. Augmented reality games encourage children to explore the world. But kids still need boundaries. Be clear about where they are allowed to go. To confirm that the rules are being followed, click the Pokéball button at the bottom of the screen for a list of captured Pokémon and details about where they were caught.

Remind your kids to exercise caution near water and to avoid crossing safety barricades, trespassing on private property and playing the game in inappropriate places, like cemeteries or churches.

Traffic is another obvious risk. People staring at phones have bumped into things and stepped in front of cars. Have your child set the phone to vibrate when a Pokémon is nearby so he or she can walk without distraction. To its credit, Pokémon GO reminds players to turn the game off while driving. The same rule should apply to other forms of transportation — bikes, scooters and skateboards, for example.

People. The best games are often social, and augmented reality is no exception. Most of the people your child encounters will be fellow enthusiasts. But the Pokémon GO game includes devices that draw Pokémon — and their hunters — to specific locations, and that creates opportunities for predators. Remind your child that all the usual rules about talking to or going anywhere with strangers apply.

Price. Apps are seductive because they seem to be free. Still, the people who develop them need to be paid, so something is always for sale. In the case of Pokémon GO, players can purchase Pokéballs, Pokécoins and lures that will make it easier to catch rare specimens. Consider giving your child an in-game allowance or encouraging her to earn money for game items by doing chores. Make it clear that your child needs to get approval before spending real money on virtual goods.

Augmented reality games are also likely to have other costs. Because Pokémon GO depends on GPS tracking, it consumes lots of data. Show kids how to monitor usage so they don’t incur extra charges by exceeding the family limit.

Playing any game is a privilege that can be revoked if household rules aren’t followed. In the case of a craze like Pokémon GO, just make sure the allure of augmented reality is tempered with the real-world common sense.

Carolyn Jabs is also the author of “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” available on Amazon and at cooperativewisdom.org.

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