Pokémon GO – mobile gateway to online gaming

With not even a month passing since its launch on 6 July 2016, Pokémon GO has become the trending topic of the summer. Blastoise, Venusaur, Charizard and Pikachu have been reborn from the Nintendo generation into the online world that is now vibrating with alerts from the latest app from Niantic Labs

The Pokémon GO trailer shows users, known as future ‘trainers', how the app will take them on a virtual yet real ride, with the statement "Get up, get out and explore! As you walk through the real world, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you're near a Pokémon". 
 
However, alongside its overwhelming popularity, numerous questions and doubts have been expressed concerning Pokémon GO, especially in the sphere of online safety for children. Many stakeholders and Safer Internet Centres (SICs) have been trying to explain what Pokémon GO actually entails - an overview follows below. 
 
What is augmented reality? 
Many online games are characterised by being gateways to a modified reality, be it mediated, virtual or augmented. Pokémon GO links to an augmented reality, where a live direct or indirect view of a real-world environment has elements that are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound or video. Analysing how this concept works, the Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre (SIC) published a comprehensive article looking also at the history of the game. From a more technical point of view and Internet of Things (IoT) perspective, Telefonica also explains how Pokémon GO shows the way towards connected augmented reality.
 
Does catching Pokémons require in-app purchases? 
Depending on the level, one can catch starting from 133 to 145 Pokémons. However, according to the Pokémon index, Pokédex, users can find up to over 700 Pokémons. Through the Pokémon Shop, users can buy additional tools and coins that can help them catch Pokémons. If in doubt about how to turn off such in-app settings, the Dutch Safer Internet Centre explains more in one of their articles commenting on Pokémon GO
 
Are there Pokémon guidelines for parents and teachers? 
Quite a lot! The app addresses users over 13 years old, although for children under 13 parents must confirm their child's account or contact the Pokémon Company International to refuse the company access to this information. It is highly recommended, however, for parents to be aware of the apps settings.  Readers can start with concise and concrete articles such as the one from the Irish Safer Internet Centre Four things parents need to know about Pokémon GO or from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) Tip Sheet: What is Pokémon GO, while ConnectSafely gives a parental perspective in its article titled Pokémon GO: The good, the bad and the ugly.
 
Trying to answer questions regarding how players get involved in the game and how time consuming it can be, the German Safer Internet Centre placed Pokémon GO under the pedagogical loop. In line with this, the Austrian Safer Internet Centre had also published a set of 10 safety tips for Pokémon GO, raising awareness about app permissions, sending screenshots and how important it is to turn off the app. 
 
For more guidelines, see also the Parent Zone's Pokémon GO a parent's guide and the Parents Guide from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK.
 
Are there places where you cannot play Pokémon GO?
In theory, the game can be played anywhere. However, in practice, there have been already reactions of categorising this app as inappropriate to be played, such as places where playing Pokémon GO is not encouraged like memorials, Holocaust museums and military bases, as explained in this article by The New York Times.  
 
How safe is Pokémon GO?
The safety of this app has been debated from a data privacy perspective, up to advice given by local police authorities (in Portugal) when playing Pokémon GO in an external environment. 
 
As pointed out in a Common Sense Media review, playing Pokémon GO involves both safety and security issues, including allowing the possibility of full access to Google accounts (for players who log in via Google). Referring to data privacy, the app can be installed on any iOS or Android mobile device, and it will request permission to use location, camera, contacts and even storage. Users can start playing by providing their birthdate and then either continuing through their Google, Facebook or Pokémon Trainer Club account. 
 
The UK Safer Internet Centre was one of the first to describe this app in its article Pokémon GO - Gaming gone mobile, highlighting the risks and what you can do to avoid them. The Polish Safer Internet Centre also wrote an article on How to safely catch Rattata and the rest of the team, referring to risks from data privacy to gaming addiction. Moreover, the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre also tackled these aspects in another publication, highlighting issues such as fast smartphone battery consumption when using the app, to other risks when bringing technology out in the open. Similar issues were also picked up by the Slovenian Safer Internet Centre in a recent article about the risks to privacy and physical damage when playing this game and by the Croatian Safer Internet Centre in a very user-friendly Pokémon GO guide.
 
For more Pokémon GO news check the Pokémon GO website and social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.  
 
If interested in online games, have a look also at how the Insafe network discussed this matter during its previous training meeting in April 2016. For more information on apps, navigate through the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Guide to online services.

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