Pokmon GO: 7 things a parent needs to know

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter, Viva, who thinks Team Rocket can go jump in the lake.

In just five short days, it seems like most of the country has fallen into two categories: 1. People who don’t know what Pokémon GO is about and are reading this for answers, and 2. People who aren’t reading this article because they are outside chasing Zubats down the street. Since you are obviously in category one, please let me shine a light on why seemingly well-adjusted adults are suddenly running around at all hours pointing at nothing and talking about a kids’ card game from the ‘90s. I should also explain why some critics of the game are freaking out like the Seventh Seal has just been opened.

Before I go any further–because I’m about take a decidedly pro-Pokémon GO stance–I’d like to identify myself as someone who is largely not a gamer and who never became addicted to Angry Birds or Words with Friends or whatever the latest app/game du jour has been over the past couple of years. Not that I don’t love to geek out, but I’m coming at this from a skeptic’s point of view.

For the uninitiated, here’s what Pokémon GO is: a game for your handheld device that uses GPS and your camera to make Pokémon (little magical anime-looking creatures) appear around you (on the screen). You can catch them in virtual “Pokeballs,” which you collect, along with other items, by standing near predetermined real world locations which your phone will identify.

To get started, download the free app, create an avatar and walk out your door. Follow the map to say, a local statue or L stop, and the phone will tell you there are Pokeballs to pick up, which you do so by poking at the screen. Creatures will “appear” and you can catch them in the balls. With time, you can also train the animals in “gyms” to “battle,” join “teams” and hatch “eggs” to birth rarer Pokémon. If that doesn’t sound fun to you, you’re wrong.

There hasn’t been this much moral panic in the media over a game since maybe “Dungeons and Dragons” made everyone terrified of indoctrination to Satan worship. Your favorite fuddy duddy friend has no doubt already shared with you scare stories about robbers targeting players, that GO reads your e-mail and that it will lead you to injury. PETA has complained for years that Pokémon promotes animal abuse. (Think of the Charizards, people. Think of the Charizards.) Yep, sure, and rolling that 20 sided die will lead you into the arms of Mephistopheles. Everybody clutch your pearls or grab a pitchfork.

Is Pokémon GO spyware which allows the futurist despots at Google to know everything you do and think? Well, sure it is. But we’ve already lost that battle, and I, for one, welcome our Google overlords.

Watch your step

There, I just defeated the biggest argument against playing this game. Yes, if you walk into the street without looking, you may get hit by a car. If you chase a Weedle into a crack den, you may run into some trouble. And if you play while driving, you’ll end up a gory statistic in a driver’s ed film. Keep your head up and you’ll fine. You might even teach your kid a thing or two about outdoor safety and urban exploration.

It’s good for you and your kids

Believe it or not, this is a video game that encourages fitness. You have to actually walk to play. (Unless you use a drone, in which case you are both cheating and being one of those drone guys. Don’t be one of those drone guys.) When you find an “egg,” you even put it into an incubator that requires ambitious stretches of walking to make the egg hatch. (And you can’t cheat by driving or using a treadmill!) I ran into one group of players at two in the morning who had walked five miles that day to hatch eggs. As one of my friends said, Pikachu is going to do more for childhood obesity that Michelle Obama ever hoped to do.

It’s social

Pokémon GO not only brings you and your kids outside for a game you’ll both enjoy, it puts you in contact with other “trainers” as they walk around, too. Assuming they don’t rob you, you just might make a friend. When is the last time you talked to a stranger on the street who wasn’t raising money for Greenpeace or telling you that Al Gore is a communist robot?

It connects you to the real world

My daughter, Viva, delights in recalling what real world landmarks are pictured on the app as Pokéstops and then racing to them. It’s connected us to our neighborhood and helped us find a lot of local murals and art we didn’t even know about, as well as some notable architectural details. I loved playing Contra in the ‘80s, but other than teaching me the Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, select start), it didn’t give me much of an education.

Be prepared for frustration

One thing that stinks about this game is that it doesn’t work all that well. There’s too many players and not enough server muscle so it crashes constantly or doesn’t let you log-in. That doesn’t seem like a problem until you and your kids really need your fix!

It’s a data and battery vampire

Bring a charger with you, find WiFi where you can … and maybe increase your data plan, ‘cause the app is insatiable and could cost you some money. (Speaking of money, I should also mention that there are optional in-app purchases that become more tempting as you play. It’s my personal policy to avoid in-app purchases.)

Say hello to the AR apocalypse

AR is “augmented reality,” meaning virtual reality things such as cartoon critters are being projected on the real world in your camera view. As opposed to “virtual reality” where you wear some kind of goggles and lie in a bed allowing your muscles to atrophy while you swing at nothing.

AR is the new trend in gaming and it’s coming up in a big way. Pokémon GO is one blow across the bow, but give it six months to a year and you won’t know who on the street is stabbing imaginary goblins out of illness and who is stabbing imaginary goblins for points.

All right, I’ve said enough; some Kadabras just appeared on my balcony and Viva and I gotta catch ’em all.

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