Where Are We Pokémon GOing?

| July 27, 2016

7/27/16 – Julie Hynes 

Unless you’ve been under a Poké-rock, you’ve surely heard about (or have played) the new “augmented reality” app, Pokémon GO. This new app, released in early July, leaped in popularity so quickly that it already has more daily users than Twitter.

Pokémon GO, a “free” game, has gotten people out and walking around, searching for Pokémon, meeting and rooting among all kids of all ages.

So why the need for an article on a public health website?

Photo: my kid “holding” a Rattata at a neighborhood park.

Listen, this isn’t a “fun police” piece. I myself play– my coworkers and I go on “Poké-breaks” at lunch, and the kids and I have a blast walking all over, hunting for new characters at the local parks after dinner.

Let’s just take a minute to think and be safe about some issues at hand. Many of us have heard about physical safety issues (predators targeting people who are not paying attention to surroundings, car accidents, falls, etc.).

Another concern is one you likely haven’t thought of: it involves the relationship with addiction issues, which include excessive gaming and problem gambling. There are already a number of blurring lines with gaming apps and gambling. In fact, at the National Conference on Problem Gambling a couple of weeks ago in New York, we talked about Pokémon GO. I half-joked that soon there would be a “Poker GO.” Some concerns are that new forms of augmented reality will encourage increased preoccupation, time spent, loss of other enjoyment in other activities, and even “chasing” by spending money—and more and more of it–trying to get to higher levels. Since the app will soon allow for trading Pokémon,  it’s inevitable that money will start switching hands in order to get the best Pokémon characters. This presents a big similarity to a concern that’s already out there in gaming and gambling: eSports.

Can you "guess the sport"?

Can you “guess the sport”?

ESports in its basic form is essentially the entertainment of watching people play video games. But people also place big time bets on eSports—to the tune of $2.3 billion in online bets last year! It’s a big deal, and if you think I’m joking, go to espn.com/esports and check out the huge, growing world of this new form of sports. (I’d also highly recommend this story – “Virtual Weapons Are Turning Teen Gamers Into Serious Gamblers”.) My recent presentation from this year’s National Conference on Problem Gambling outlines many issues related to daily fantasy sports and eSports. The fact that young people have essentially been able to gamble online with their video game “skins,” and do it under-the-radar, is one we hope to prevent and avoid with Pokemon GO.

So what to Poké-do? Some suggestions for players of all ages: limit time on the app, avoid Poké-driving, and limit the amount of money (if at all) spent on the app. For caregivers, keep any one-click purchase options OFF on your device so that youth can’t start purchasing items with this and other “freemium” apps.

For now, this game seems like a lot of social fun to get out, exercise, meet people, and hunt for those elusive Pokémon. No “fun police” here, but we want to be sure the game is enjoyed in moderation and that we all stay safe. See you at the Pokestop!


Julie Hynes is a Senior Community Health Analyst with PreventionLane. She has far too many Pidgeys and Zubats. Tweet to her at @HynesUO.


Category: Problem Gambling, Trainings

Comments are closed.