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.
Why the Herd Instinct Makes Pokémon Go a Public Menace
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.