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.

Pokemon Herd 2

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.

Of course, there are good things about Pokémon Go. It's fun and entertaining, for example. It gets young people outside and interacting with each other, to a certain degree.

But for the most part, Pokémon Go is causing injuries, law-breaking, social friction and worse. Pokémon Go is a public menace. You might be surprised to learn why.

What's Dangerous About Pokémon Go

Pokémon 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.

Pokémon Go Turns Players Into Anti-social Herds

Like Black Friday, Pokémon Go pits participants in a contest with each other for limited opportunities. So people go nuts, trying to "get some" no matter who gets in the way.

The quiet neighborhood of Rhodes in Sydney, Australia, was suddenly overrun recently by literally thousands of Pokémon Go players looking for rare Pokémon. A kind of war broke out after residents started throwing eggs, trash and water balloons at the players.

Have you seen a Pokémon Go herd? This disturbing video was posted online showing typical frenzy of Pokémon Go players descending on Central Park.

Reports are surfacing of Pokémon players trampling graveyards, gardens and wildlife. (One player reportedly stepped on a snake and got bit.)

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC is designated as a "PokéStop" within the game and the Museum had to issue a public request: "Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism."

The current bizarre situation was well described in the movie "Men in Black" when Tommy Lee Jones told Will Smith that "a 'person' is smart. But 'people' are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

Pokémon Go is Spawning False Rumors and Hoaxes

Pokémon Go is a craze. And like all crazes, it makes the public susceptible to false information and the quickly established urban myths.