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App review: Pokémon GO

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Parents need to know that Pokemon GO is an insanely popular augmented reality game (based on the huge franchise of video games, card games, and other media) that requires an internet connection with GPS tracking and movement in the real world.

Playing the game, which appeals to a wide range of ages, involves various safety and security issues, including allowing the possibility of full access to your Google account (for players who log in via Google) - though the developers are in the process of addressing this situation. Other risks include physical injury due to distraction, being directed to unsafe places or onto private property, and even becoming a target for assault or robbery (all of these things have already happened to players in the real world).

A player's location and name are also broadcast to other players, including children and adults. The game requires a large amount of power and drains phone batteries quickly. Its privacy policy indicates that user information - including name, email, age, and location - is collected; parents of children under 13 must confirm their child's account or contact the Pokemon Company International to refuse the company access to this information (this, plus the other risks, is the reason for our age rating). The privacy policy was updated July 1, and a disclaimer at the start indicates it could change further at any time.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

The Pokemon franchise has always been about two things: collecting fanciful creatures and making them fight each other. Pokemon GO builds on this, using augmented reality to bring these challenges into the real world. Players take on the role of a young Pokemon trainer and collect various Pokemon (more than 150) in real locations by walking, biking, driving, and so on. GPS tracking follows you around a map that simulates real-world locations in real time, where you encounter map icons that show where you can catch wild Pokemon, gather resources, and visit training gyms. The more ground you cover, the bigger your collection and the more energy you have. Once you reach a high enough level, you can join a team and pit your Pokemon against those of rival trainers.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

If the execution was clean and privacy and safety weren't concerns, this would be a brilliant game - and certainly, lots of people are having a great time playing it. Sadly, the experience has a range of poor design choices, technical issues, and security risks. The minimal interface offers little tutorial and even less feedback that would clue you in to how to use the training gyms, and the omission of simple but important menu info makes managing your collection a chore. In addition, gameplay is constantly interrupted by bugs and internet server/connection issues that result in crashes, lost Pokemon, invisible characters, and temporarily erased player profiles. Add to these issues a string of incidents around violence, private property, and security issues, and it's difficult to recommend the app without some serious caveats and cautions.

Still, there's something magical about the social phenomenon and immediate point of connection with other players: Everywhere you go people are playing Pokemon GO and approaching each other, smiling and talking enthusiastically about their collections, strategies, and levels. Because it's such a mixed bag, parents need to weigh the costs and benefits of a highly social, active game such as this, determine whether it's right for their family, and figure out what rules and limits need to be set before kids start to play.

RATING AND CONTENT

Recommended for ages 13 and older

Quality: 3 out of 5

Ease of play: 3 out of 5

Violence: 1 out of 5

Sex: 0 out of 5

Language: 0 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 1 out of 5

Consumerism: 3 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)

APP DETAILS

Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android

Price: Free

Release date: July 8, 2016

Category: Adventure Games

Size: 193.00 MB

Publisher: Niantic, Inc.

Minimum software requirements: iOS 8.0 or later; Android 4.4 and up

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Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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