Why the Herd Instinct Makes Pokémon Go a Public Menace

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-07-18 Print this article Print
Pokemon Herd 2

No, a 15-year-old was not killed while playing Pokémon Go. No, a player standing in the middle of a highway did not cause a major car pile-up. And no, a teen did not kill his brother because he believed the brother deleted his game. The Snopes Website, which specializes in debunking rumors, has a whole page devoted to false reports about Pokémon Go.

There's something about trends that makes certain kinds of people feel like "insiders" who like to sneer at "outsiders." That's annoying enough when this ugly trend appears on social media, but even professional organizations always get into the act.

For example, The Simpsons cartoon rushed a vital Pokémon Go reference into a recent episode to seem relevant.

SpaceX over the weekend successfully launched and landed a rocket, but in their launch broadcast, they showed a Pokémon Go version of their Dragon capsule on screen within the Pokémon Go interface.

Pokémon Go Encourages Cheating

Craigslist and eBay are suddenly overrun with hundreds of offers for advanced-level Pokémon Go accounts—accounts where the seller has already achieved multiple levels of the game. It's the equivalent of offering someone to start a marathon at the halfway point for a fee.

Fake Pokémon Go apps are popping up on the Google Play Store, as well as apps promising to give users an unfair advantage playing the game or enabling people to play the game where Niantic Labs hasn't yet made it available.

The security research firm ESET Mobile Security found apps called "Pokémon Go Ultimate," "Guide & Cheats for Pokémon GO" and "Install Pokémongo." Google is taking them down as fast as they can.

Shameless real estate agents are using Pokémon Go to sell or rent properties. Craigslist ads for apartments and home listings boast proximity to PokéStops. One British Columbia real estate listing advertised a single family home "conveniently located between two Pokémon gyms and has 8 Pokéstops within walking distance."

Bars, restaurants, malls and other businesses are also advertising nearby PokéStops to lure customers.

Actually, I appreciate their promotions. It tells me which areas, homes and businesses to avoid.

Too many media outlets are mislabeling Pokémon Go as "augmented reality." In reality, it's "mixed reality."

"Augmented reality" and "mixed reality" aren't the same thing. They're opposites. With "augmented reality," objects in the real world are enhanced with additional information or context. With "mixed reality," there are fake items that aren't really there, such as Pokémon characters, for example, which appear to be placed in the real world.

One medium sharpens focus on the real world. The other medium is an escape from the real world.

Pokémon Go gets people to go outside and travel while doing the opposite of exploring other cultures and interacting with people about their lives. Instead, it involves mainly withdrawing into the artificial, escapist world of Pokémon.

A New Zealander named Tom Currie actually quit his job to play Pokémon Go full time. Instead of seeking out his country's many natural and cultural wonders, he's seeking out cartoon characters on his phone.

We're told that Pokémon Go is getting couch potatoes to finally go outside and get some exercise, as if the game is similar to running a 10k or taking a Crossfit class.

First of all, wandering around isn't exercise. Second, staring at a screen all day isn't healthy. The game just gives people the delusion that they're exercising so they can remain mostly sedentary, but with a clear conscience.

Some people are calling 911, or in the UK 999, to report that someone has stolen their Pokémon. The police are forced into the position of having to tell Pokémon Go players: "Nobody cares; Pokémon have no real value; don't call us anymore."

Pokémon Go Isn't the End of the World

We can take hope that the societal discord, law-breaking and accidents associated with Pokémon Go are temporary. Part of the problem is that Pokémon Go is the first super popular mixed reality game. As other mixed- and augmented-reality applications emerge, and the Pokémon Go fad fades, our culture will slowly adjust to the reality that virtual objects are everywhere.

As with smartphone texting, we'll learn to cope as best we can with less-than-attentive people walking or driving in public.

But that adjustment hasn't happened yet. For now, Pokémon Go is a big public menace.


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