Why the Herd Instinct Makes Pokémon Go a Public Menace
NEWS ANALYSIS: The world's first mainstream mixed reality app is fun, cute and innovative, but it also brings out the worst in humanity.Everybody's talking about Pokémon Go, the world's first super popular augmented reality game. Sure, it's all fun and games—until somebody gets hurt.
Pokémon Go became an instant runway hit after it was launched July 6 by Niantic Labs, the Google spin-off formerly known for the less-popular Ingress mixed reality game.After downloading the free Pokémon Go app, players sign in and start walking around to find Pokémon characters, which appear to be floating in place (sort of) in specific geographic locations. By "catching" characters, you advance to higher and higher levels. You can also find items that can help you compete against other players. Pokémon Go lets you join Team Mystic, Team Valor, or Team Instinct, then compete against the other two teams. There's a lot more to the game, but this column isn't about Pokémon Go, the new game. It's about Pokémon Go, the new social problem.
What's Dangerous About Pokémon GoPokémon Go requires that people walk around outside without paying attention to where they're going. People are getting injured left and right. Pokémon Go players are walking into trees, poles, signs, ponds, buildings and even traffic—and falling into ditches, down stairs and off cliffs. Numerous people have been spotted, ticketed or have caused accidents while driving and playing Pokémon Go at the same time. One New York man drove into a tree while playing the game. A teenage Pokémon Go player in Pittsburgh was hit by a car. At least 15 people were reportedly robbed in St. Louis, Omaha and Baltimore after being lured to a specific location by the robbers using Pokémon Go's dubious "lure" module, which is used to attract wild Pokémon to a temporary PokéStop.
Two Pokémon Go-playing teenagers sitting in a car while playing the game were shot at in Palm Coast, Fla., when a man thought they were burglars. The teenagers escaped injury. Another player claims he was stabbed in a park in Oregon, but kept playing.Police departments are being used as PokéStop, and it's making police edgy. The Duvall, Wash., Police Department, for example, issued a warning on Facebook saying (in all caps): "DO NOT LURK AROUND THE PD AT ANY HOUR WHILE YOU ARE PLAYING POKEMON GO—it makes an unsafe situation for you and our Officers." Some Pokémon Go players are getting arrested for trespassing. Others aren't getting arrested, but are bragging about it on Twitter. One player tweeted: "I broke into a golf course last night to find some Pokemon that was pretty crazy." Various police departments have reported an increase in trespassing because of the game. One man in Texas was arrested after threatening on Facebook to "purge" anyone he found playing Pokémon Go, by which he meant shoot them with a paintball gun. Unless Pokemon players and the general public fully comprehend the danger, it's only a matter of time before someone gets killed. Of course, it's fine if people want to put themselves at risk, but Pokémon Go is straining public emergency services—and public patience.