Pokémon Go: How to keep you or your children safe when playing

Pokémon Go is big. The augmented-reality game has come on like something of a revelation, letting nostalgic adults and actual children look at their surroundings as monster-filled playgrounds. Before it was even officially out in the UK yet, it had already taken the internet by storm, with stories popping up of the game facilitating unexpected friendships, impromptu parties and armed robberies.

So, as the game looks like it’ll be a staple for the summer months, how do you keep you or your child safe when outside collecting and battling Pokémon? Here are a few pointers to consider.

What is augmented reality?

First off, if you’re not au fait with augmented reality (AR), it helps to know a little about what it is and how it works with Pokémon Go. In a nutshell, AR superimposes a virtual layer on top of the real world, in this case via your phone. For Pokémon Go, this means that you can look at the real world via your screen – much like you were taking a picture – and see a virtual character on the ground in front of you.

Combine this with GPS location tracking and the use of a real-world map, and you end up with a game that is played out across your actual surroundings. The novelty of this – mingled with the popularity of Pokémon as a brand – is a large part of why Pokémon Go has suddenly become so popular. As an AR game of this scale is unprecedented, it opens a lot of potential for new, unregulated experiences. It also means there are legitimate concerns when it comes to safety, precisely because these experiences are relatively unregulated.


Be careful with roads

Very simply, a game that involves you staring at the world through your phone raises dangers when it comes to being aware of where you actually are. One big thing to be aware of is the presence of roads – whether you’re on foot, or behind the wheel.

If you or your child is walking around the city collecting Pokémon, you want to be careful you don’t accidentally walk into traffic. More worryingly, there have been multiple cases in the US of people getting into car accidents because one of the drivers was playing the game. This might sound obvious, but don’t play Pokémon Go unless your car is stationary.

Be careful at night

Pokémon don’t sleep. That means if you go out at 3am to your local park you’ll be able to find Pokémon, just like you could during the day. Before you do that, however, take a second to think: “Would I normally walk down this dark alley, or stroll alone in this pitch-black park, if there wasn’t a virtual monster there?” If the answer is “no”, then wait until it’s light again.


Be aware you’re flashing an expensive phone around

This is a really an extension of the former points, but keep in mind that when you’re staring down at the screen of your phone, you are visibly both vulnerable and holding an expensive piece of equipment. Keep a sense of spatial awareness in mind, and be aware if other people are around you.

Now, this doesn’t mean every stranger you come across has bad intentions. There have been plenty of heartwarming stories about people brought together by Pokémon Go, but there have also been stories about people being using the games’ lures – which attract Pokémon – to rob other players looking to catch said Pokémon. Just be mindful before walking alone into isolated places.

Be mindful of other people’s property

One of the more interesting stories to emerge over the weekend came from a man who lives in a converted church, which is marked in the game as a Pokémon gym – somewhere players can train and fight their Pokémon. This led to a stream of people turning up around his house, playing the game through the day and night.

The man, designer Boon Sheridan, raised a number of interesting points on his Twitter thread, particularly when it comes to rights of ownership when a virtual location is imposed on his home.

Sheridan’s house ended up as a gym due to an out-of-date database of locations used by the game but, from the player-end, be careful that you or your children are respectful of other people’s property. We don’t live in a socialist Pokémon utopia – yet.

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