It’s great to hear stories like these. There are a lot of articles on the web about Pokémon Go, so the purpose of this one is to consolidate the essential information for the Aspergers and Autistic community to help assess the potential benefit and risks of Pokémon Go for their special needs child.
Pokémon GO was released early in July 2014 and has swept the globe faster than any electronic game before it, with more than 14 million downloads in the first week. So it is likely that before long your child will want to play it, if they aren’t already.
Here are a few snippets from popular social media articles indicating potential benefits of Pokémon Go for Aspergers and Autism:
“Ruthie then surprised her mother further by asking to go to the playground to collect more Pokémon.”
“He was interacting with other kids. Amazing. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.”
“Wow! My Autistic child is socialising”
“Y’all can post all the negative things you want about Pokémon Go, but it’s getting my kid out of the house. My kid who struggles with depression and anxiety and sometimes won’t leave her room”
It sounds very intriguing, but of course, every child is different and will have a different experience that should be assessed and monitored by parents. So bearing that in mind, let’s review the game to give everyone a head-start in considering it for their child, or to help understand the game that your child may already be spending a lot of time playing.
What is Pokémon Go?
Wikipedia: Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise. It was released in July 2016 for iOS and Android devices.
It is being released in stages to different markets and as of mid-July 16 was available in US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most recently UK.
The game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, who appear throughout the real world. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices.
So essentially, the game involves going outside, down the street or to the park to explore for virtual creatures viewed on your phone, then capture, battle with or train those creatures.
A lot of the appeal and gameplay of Pokémon Go is determined by your geographical location. If you walk past a body of water, you’re supposed to find water Pokémon. If you go to a forest or Central Park, you’re supposed to find grass or bug types.
The game not only has a very low barrier to entry – it’s free and the primary mechanic is walking – but it encourages and rewards constant engagement whether you’re at home, walking to the shops, at work or school or on your commute. Pokemon (digital creatures) pop up literally anywhere, and they’re different in different areas.
It has been praised by some medical professionals for potentially improving the mental and physical health of players, but attracted some controversy due to reports of causing accidents and being a public nuisance at some locations.
To play, you fire up the game and then start trekking to prominent local landmarks — represented in the game as “Pokestops” — where you can gather supplies such as Pokeballs. Those are what you throw at online “pocket monsters,” or Pokémon, to capture them for training. At other locations called “gyms” — which may or may not be actual gyms in the real world — Pokémon battle one another for supremacy. The phone may vibrate to indicate a critter is nearby. PokéCoins are the in-game currency (which you have the option of buying with cash), used to unlock special items within the game.
Pokémon Go integrates the Real World with virtual creating a fun and engaging experience that involves moving around the real world – i.e. the local park or shopping centre. It is a global phenomena, so it can be played on holidays, where new types of critters may be encountered.
Is Pokémon Go good for Aspis’ and Autis’? There are plenty of articles on the web that ‘sell’ the positive impact on special needs children. But that will be different for every child, every family, and is ultimately for the parents to decide.
Pokémon Go was developed over a 6 year period by Satoshi Tajiri: Pokémon Creator. A biography of Taiiri was published in 2008 by KidHaven Press. This book states that Tajiri himself has Aspergers syndrome; however, others in the community dispute this assertion.
Some users report that the game is quite buggy and logs people out frequently. Only time will tell how long it will take the developers to stabilise and improve the experience.
- Like any computer game we are challenged by the additive nature and the impact excessive gaming can have, especially on young children. Pokémon Go falls right into that zone and parents need to be aware of the types of activity and amount of time spent on electronic gaming versus (purely) ‘real world’ activities to maintain balance.
- Any electronic activity that is done while walking around involves dangers, including walking into objects, people or into the path of traffic. Of course, just about any healthy real world activity involves risks, but teaching your child good habits in device use is essential.
- Getting lost is a risk too, especially if a person is not familiar with their environment and is immersed in the game.
- The game has induced people to post pictures of themselves on social media chasing creatures in all sorts of dangerous situations.
- Pokémon Go is a phenomenon that is sweeping the globe. Already people are offering services to Pokémon Go users. Some of those service providers will have sinister motives. Parents must educate their children about the dangers and apply a clear policy of zero engagement with strangers on the Internet.
- Pokémon gives people another reason to use their device while driving or riding a bike or skating. The dangers of this practice are extreme. Please don’t do that.
- In terms of Internet safety and privacy, Niantic — the game developer that runs Pokémon Go— has faced criticism for giving itself too much access to information on your phone that you probably want to keep private. Even if you believe Niantic isn’t malicious and has no plans to do anything sketchy with your personal info, some people are justifiably concerned that a lot of players’ personal info could be compromised in the event that Niantic ever gets hacked.
- There are going to be reports of every type of mishap associated with this app if it continues to spread virally, purely due to the numbers of children (and adults) that will be using it and distracted. Be vigilant, educate your kids and ensure (you and) your kids are safe when using the game.
Can Pokémon Go cost you money?
The Pokémon Go app is free but costs money in the following ways.
- The game is a “data hog”. The app can average from 2MB to 8MB per day. “if half of a 2GB data plan is allocated to playing Pokémon Go, users can reasonably expect to play four to six hours per day without any issue. If Pokémon Go is played for more than six hours per day, an upgraded data plan may be needed.”Remember, application usage doesn’t impact your data plan if you are on Wifi. It only impacts your Data plan if you are using Mobile data (via your phone company plan). Make sure you only download apps when on Wifi. You could restrict play only to areas where there is Wifi. (And you can turn Mobile data off in settings – at least for your kids).
- The game’s use of GPS, Wi-Fi, camera and microphone poses a big drain on battery life. Since the game launched, major retailers have reported a spike in the sale of portable chargers, also called power banks, for mobile devices.
- PokéCoins are the in-game currency, used to unlock special items within the game. They are accumulated during game play without handing over real cash, but you’ll have the option of buying them for real money as well, which may be beneficial in the early stages when you will be low of PokéCoins.
- Some businesses are deliberately attracting Pokémon Go players using the game, so that purchases can be made in their store. For example, one New York pizzeria owner Sean Benedetti reportedly spent $10 on an in-app purchase of a dozen “lure modules,” which attract Pokémon to a particular location for 30-minute intervals. Benedetti saw his sales jump 75% last weekend because of the move, according to The New York Post.
Pokémon Go is a phenomenon that is sweeping the world. It’s success will certainly lead to other games that will integrate the virtual and real worlds to deliver activities and fun to gamers. Businesses will quickly learn how these types of games can be used for commercial advantage.
The positive experiences that parents of special needs children are reporting are encouraging. But of course, every child will respond differently and enjoy different concepts. Pokémon Go is clearly lots of fun, despite its early technical problems, and is getting kids out of the house. As with any electronic entertainment for children, parents need to be connected with what their children are doing, be informed about risks, and proactive in ensuring a healthy mix of activities for their kids.
Here is a quote from an avid Pokémon Go user:
“I was planning to go for a long walk to the park, but the Pokémon GO servers are down”.