By now, even if you have not yet played Pokemon Go, you are more aware of it than your own breathing. You have read that the app has been more downloaded than any other app, ever, and that it has actually convinced kids to leave the house to go play outside — a miracle!
But you have probably also heard about the player who stumbled upon a dead body, and the two guys who walked off a cliff (but lived), and the 15-year-old who didn’t look up and got hit by a car. (She’s alive, too.) And then there were those four guys arrested in a black BMW somewhere in Missouri for waiting in a secluded area and robbing the Pokemon players who stopped by.
So if you are part of the vast web of Very Concerned Adults whose life’s purpose seems to be dreaming up terrible things that can happen to kids anytime they venture beyond the kitchen, you can relax. You’ve got your stranger-danger stories. Phew! Now you can remind us that anytime people are headed outside, especially kids, they had better think long and hard first.
Following this incredibly predictable script, a bunch of our local television stations are solemnly warning us about scenarios they have made up in their heads: Reports CBS New York, “there are worries that sex offenders might use the app to lure children.” And, says NBC New York, the app “could potentially put young people at risk.”
Note to news editors: Worries are not the same as “realities.” What’s more, pretty much anything can “potentially” put young people at risk, including eating dinner (they could choke!), playing baseball (they could get hit by a bat!) and attending school (what if they fall off the stage during a production of “Annie”?).
As delightful as Pokemon Go is to play — I love it and I’ve never played video games before — it almost seems to be more exciting to the authorities who can spit out a new set of warnings faster than you can say, “Air time.”
And so all the way across the country, the San Francisco Police Department took it upon itself to tell moms and dads that they should “know where your kids are going when playing with the app” and “set limits” — as if parents couldn’t possibly figure this out for themselves. As if this whole “kids going outside” thing is just so new and crazy.
The ’Frisco fear-mongers also published this Pokemon Go Safety Tip: “Know your surroundings and pay attention to where you’re going and who is around you. Slow car paralleling a person on foot might be a sign it’s a getaway car.”
Um, yeah. Except that with literally 15,000,000 people playing this game across the entire country for the past week, we have that one BMW in Missouri to point to as an actual menace.
Meantime, over in England, which you’d think has bigger problems to freak out about, the authorities are warning that the app could be used to make children “easily accessible to criminals” — and they don’t even have the game there yet!
It is almost like there’s a parallel universe out there: Game players get points for finding Pokemon, and the warning-class gets points for dreaming up horror movie plots. But the warners also get massive publicity, because nothings sells like kids in peril — even if they aren’t. (Can I remind us all here that stranger-danger is the least likely of crimes?)
So the other morning I was walking around my bustling neighborhood, Jackson Heights, when I saw one mom showing another mom the app. The explainer had her 10-year-old son with her. “Can he go out on his own to play?” I (a stranger!) asked.
“Oh no, no, no,” she said, as if I’d queried, “Would you bathe your child in acid?” The other mom agreed: No way.
“What age do you think you’ll let them play on their own?”
Answered Mom #1, grimly laughing: “28.”
The Pokemon game is so fun, so simple, so sharable, it is as if the company invented the 21st century equivalent of the ball — a toy kids can play with on their own, or in a group, or when they’re walking down the street.
But the ball came of age before the warning industry, indeed before the dawn of history, so kids simply got to go outside and play with it. Imagine that.
Lenore Skenazy is author and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.