Will Pokemon Go break my kid's brain?
March 13, 2021 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I asked this question a while ago about getting my six-year-old to enjoy going for walks. A few people suggested Pokemon Go. I find it intriguing, but also have weird feelings about whether it's "good" for kids to get into games at an early age, worry it'll be addictive, etc. I'm looking for opinions, tips, etc. Evidence-based stuff extra-welcome, but in no way required.

What I love: The idea of being able to go outside with my kid and move around. I enjoy getting out of the house, and also want to get more physical activity in my time with him. Also: I like him to have fun, and he loves Pokemon, loves games, etc.

What I worry about: The whole thing feels kinda un-wholesome somehow. I feel like if we are outside, he *should* be observing the world or whatever. It feels weird to think of us going out into the world, and he is looking down at the phone. I worry about the addictiveness of these games.
posted by ManInSuit to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your kid will break Pokemon Go before it breaks his or her brain.
posted by floam at 9:40 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]

I can’t say for Pokémon go or whether games should be included in walks or outdoor time but through lockdown I dug out my old nes console and my 4 and 5 year old boys have had a wonderful time, I don’t think they’re as addictive as the new stuff and they get bored of it after a while... we’ve done the whole thing now and I’ve bought the Super Nintendo mini console to get us through our upcoming spring lockdown here in Germany. So that’s our gaming experience and it’s been positive and fun.
posted by pairofshades at 9:42 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

I have one kid who is totally addicted to screens and one who doesn't much care.

I started playing Pokemon Go with my six year old because it was one of the only ways to get her out of the house. She (now 7) has since started playing the card game (and winning by using strategy) and taught herself to read so shw could memorize the whole pokemon encyclopedia. I'm happy in these uncertain times that she's found something to challenge her smart little monkey brain.

The thing about Pokemon outside, in a city, is you don't actually move that much. You spend a lot of time standing around, staring at the screen, collecting balls and catching pokemon, and more time sleepwalking around finding more pokemon. The only time we walk in any way resembling excercise is if the map shows us a desirable pokemon at a distance. So if you make hunting down far away pokemon your strategy, that could work. (But often with little kids, you just have to stop every few steps because another pokemon has popped up and it needs to be caught right now. So you sort of bumble along from pokemon to pokemon).

However, we live in a city where there's pokemon and pokestops around every corner. Further out in the countriside they seem to be rarer, so you could spend more time walking around.

Anyway, the big benefits I see:
- it's a fun hobby to share with a kid, you can both geek out together about your pokestrategy
- memorising 300 pokemon and strategising is excercise for their brains
- it gives them instant rapport with other pokemon playing kids
- fresh air and sunlight
posted by Omnomnom at 9:44 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

Ps- I also got them each a huge “30 years of Mario encyclopedia” and every time we get in the car they pour over it and are super excited when they come across something in real life that they saw in screen shots from the encyclopedia. So it’s actually been quite a big fun discovery project.
posted by pairofshades at 9:45 AM on March 13

Mom of 10 year old and 15 year old here. I can answer specifically to Pokemon Go as well as talk about my general approach.

My spouse played Ingress in our neighbourhood for a long time with the end result that we ended up with a major Pokemon...gym? (I'm not the spouse that plays but I think that's what it's called) in the park across the street, plus he was primed to play it. He took our kids out, as did my MIL, to play for like, a year running, after it came out. He also always took a soccer ball or a scooter and doing the Pokemon bits was just one of the activities at the park/in the area they went to, maybe the reason for choosing that particular park or route, but at a certain point, the phone went away and the other activities took over.

I was skeptical at first but I think it was a nice bonding activity. My kids come camping and we do park walks and hikes all the time and they love to explore the beach (come out to Scarborough!) or the trees just as much as any other kids. I think the habit of getting out was a good one even if it involved a phone. We've done a tiny bit of geocaching too.

For kids getting hooked on video games...when my eldest was small I really limited screen time and by the time my younger came along I didn't as much and I don't find there's a huge difference between them. Over time my approach has been not to limit video games so much as put my effort into alternatives. So for example, on a weekend, I put my "mom energy" in the Before Times to signing them up for martial arts, pottery/art (their choice), swimming some terms, and getting them in the car to go to concerts, picnics, and art exhibits. It's more "we're doing this" than "stop playing that."

For outside habits...we eat outdoors at the beach each Friday when the weather's good, I pack up a simple meal or we pick up a pizza or a chicken fingers/wedges/fruit/veggie tray or sushi, and we often spend the hour between activities at a park with or without a library book. In other words, we try to make outdoors a routine, and at this point...I'm pretty glad we did that and if Pokemon Go helped us establish that habit which at the time it kind of did, hey, fab.

Given that they are out and about, and that they also use their art supplies and help us with chores and build things in the backyard and paint furniture they drag out of other people's garbage, I don't really hound them about the odd Sunday afternoon spent completely in front of the TV.

Over Covid, sometimes that balance has tipped, especially last spring when school was virtual but not very synchronous. In those moments again rather than having the limits come from the top down, I've usually sat down with them, talked about how their bodies are wired up on game adrenaline, or their language is sharp, or they haven't remembered to eat lunch. The jury is out on my approach but I see them both, especially my 10 year old, using that language -- "I'm tired of all the load sounds, I'm turning this off now."

If I found they couldn't turn the games off, or never were, I would probably have to get stricter.

So basically...I think if you introduce Pokemon Go as a fun enhancement to getting out and moving their body, and you integrate non-video activities into your sort of regular life, your child will be fine.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:52 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all this!!

Yeah - it looks where we live (Little Portugal in Toronto) is very dense with Pokemons as Omnommnomm suggests. That's sorta a shame. I gather there are other similar games where maybe we can walk a bit more? Anyone have suggestions?
posted by ManInSuit at 10:04 AM on March 13

I’m coming to this from the perspective of someone who works in a public garden. When Pokémon Go was at its height of popularity we saw lots of people coming to visit the gardens in order to play Pokémon Go. This was great for them as well as their friends/family who got to go someplace new and, in the case of the gardens, beautiful. Yes, you’re going to do a lot of walking around between fixed sites in your neighborhood but you can also use it as a way to visit new and interesting places.

This morning my kid and I ran into a family who was biking along a trail and stopping to do Pokémon stuff along the way.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:16 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

Relevant Pokémon Go post from a Kotaku writer bonding with their son over Pokémon Go.
posted by WedgedPiano at 1:09 PM on March 13

Forego movies and television and allow video games instead. The difference passive and active makes is huge.

As for Pokemon Go specifically, it's a win. My (now 18-25yo) kids and I have all played it intermittently since it started almost 5 years ago, and they've adapted it well for Covid-times. It's still keeping us active... and I'm considering digging out an old phone for my 2yo granddaughter to have her own account, since she can play ours halfway decently. It's a lovely excuse to get out of the house even in iffy weather.
posted by stormyteal at 1:10 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Here's an article on neuroscience and Pokemon Go from The University of Queensland Brain Institute.

It looks like your kid might develop a preference for Pokemon characters over other kinds of stimuli.

I'm not seeing anything particularly bad about it, but I'm wondering if you'd feel more comfortable if you integrated it with some birdwatching or flower identification or rock collecting. Keeping a nature notebook could be another cool outdoor activity.
posted by FencingGal at 1:32 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

I've been playing Pokemon Go with my kids since they were four and six - over two years now. It does not stop them from enjoying the nature or running down hills or climbing trees or anything. When it's nice we go on a pokemon walk daily. In the winter they didn't even think about it. Jane McGonigal, the game designer, has a lot of data on games and kids and there's a lot more good news out there than you usually hear about.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:52 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

If you are considering alternatives to achieve the same goal, maybe consider geocaching if you have spots up in your neck of the woods. It’s made walking and hiking very easy and fun for my almost 6 year old.
posted by gatorbiddy at 9:48 PM on March 13

I started playing Pokémon Go with my exercise-averse 6 year old in fall 2019 and it was a lifesaver in the early pandemic. He was downright enthusiastic about going on walks when there were pokémon to catch or a raid to attend.

I had to put some limits on it—it turns out that our zoo is full of pokestops and I drew the line at going to the zoo to catch cartoon animals when there are real ones to look at, for instance (this was pre-COVID).

But it’s totlaly violence-free, you can do almost everything as a free-to-play player except for certain special events, and as it turns out our local Pokémon Go community is full of really nice people.

That said, if the game squiks you out, I’d agree with trying geocaching.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:57 AM on March 14

Pokemon Go is a fun game. Depending on your kid's interests, it might be good to couple it with a nature app like Seek, which identifies plant and insect species through your camera and gives similar catch-'em-all reward badges.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:29 PM on March 14

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