Pokemon Go

Photo: Niantic/Nintendo

When you say discrimination, people know what you’re talking about. There’s racial discrimination, religious discrimination, sex discrimination, and many others. But when you say age discrimination, people respond with a “Huh?”. Being an adult means that you were once a child. As children, we shared similar experiences such as curfews and being grounded. Did you ever wonder what your childhood would have been like if you were treated the same as an adult? Adults don’t have curfews. Adults can’t get grounded. Adults aren’t banned from R-rated movies. Adult can spend their money how they want. It is a fact that youth are treated differently than adults and sometimes this differential treatment manifests itself as age discrimination. The latest example of this is how children playing Pokémon Go are treated versus adults playing the game.

The mobile app Pokémon Go has been catching headlines since its release in June, but feelings about the app are mixed. This addition to the Nintendo franchise allows users to play in real-time based on their location and is credited as one of the first augmented reality games. The goal is to catch all 151 Pokémon and become the ultimate Pokémon trainer.

Many argue that Pokémon Go is a danger to public safety and makes youth especially vulnerable to sex offenders. Several members of Congress have already started drafting Pokémon Go legislation. Felix Ortiz, Assistant Speaker of New York State Assembly, has recently made comments about Nintendo’s responsibility to “make sure that its customers don’t make terrible decisions”. New York State Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino are drafting a bill that would ban PokeStops and Pokémon Gyms within 100 feet of convicted sex offenders homes. Savino commented “We love new technology … but we believe that the makers of this game and others to come have a responsibility to help us protect children and all society from those who would prey upon us”. However, what isn’t mentioned is that children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse by people known to them. The National Sex Offender Public website cites that “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors”. This means the classic perception of stranger danger is much less likely than a child being sexually abused by someone he or she knows and being outside playing Pokémon Go is not as dangerous as parent might think.

Fear of pedophiles isn’t the only concern parents are voicing. They also question how the game affects their children’s mental health. Journalist Nicholas Kardaras expresses that “children have additional vulnerabilities when they interact with interactive and immersive screens; their brains and what psychologists call ‘reality testing’—the ability to discern what’s real and what isn’t—are not fully developed yet”. Kardaras also states “If you’re an adult, have at it! Pokémon Go to your heart’s content; wander the streets looking for the little augmented reality buggers”. So is playing Pokémon Go bad for youth but okay for adults? Many would disagree.

Pokémon Go has helped youth tremendously by improving mental health. The creators of the app had no way of imagining that the game would create such a profound effect on the mental health of youth, but it did. Depression and anxiety are common illnesses among youth and often leaves individuals without energy or motivation. Many youth players say Pokémon Go gives them “a reason to leave their beds and go outside”. This unintended consequence has pleasantly surprised many people and has given parents a reason to allow their children to wander freely.

In addition to incredible health benefits among its users, the app has also has helped paved the way for the Free Range Kids Movement. Allowing youth to engage in the Pokémon Go app means allowing youth to move outside of supervised areas such as a house or yard. Exploring the world is an important part of learning for youth and adults alike. Providing more freedom to youth allows more opportunities for them to learn and grow. Youth are just are capable as adults and deserve the chance to seek out things that interest them. If playing Pokémon Go is one of those interests, then tell them to “Catch ‘em all!”.