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The Dangers of Pokémon GO: How a Good Game May Become Painfully Ugly

Even if you grew up playing with yo-yos and flying discs, you’ve probably heard that tens of thousands of people have been wandering around looking for invisible animated characters. In some cases, these people are being injured in traffic accidents, winding up in scuffles, being charged with trespassing – or worse.

It began with the introduction of the app, a freebie, on July 6. Pokémon GO is now the reason you’re seeing people waving cellphones like divining rods as they turn up in odd places (alone and in groups) at all hours in search of Pokémon characters. The phone’s GPS is key to the hunt, and its camera allows you to “see” your prey, 150-plus Pokémon characters waiting to be captured by humans and trained for battle in other levels of the game.

The Good

The upside is that this high-tech incarnation of the old game gets people outside, quite a change from when Pokémon began as a video game in the 1990s and planted millions of couch potato seeds. The game has people exercising and socializing. It’s interactive and even features training at virtual “gyms” and combat. Players are going places and experiencing things in ways they never would from their couches via television.

There’s a business upside, too. There’s nothing like a rare “pocket monster” parked on your restaurant, pub, or shop doorstep to draw a crowd.

Although dangers of Pokémon GO are being discovered along with the animated characters, people are stepping up to make it safer. In Providence, R.I., GoProvidence is putting out a Pokémon GO blog to help gamers safely navigate the city.

The Bad

The Pokémon GO app has set records for downloads and has people stalking animated characters in wonderful and sometimes unfortunate places in almost 40 countries. The app’s creator, Niantic Inc., has added warnings, many in response to complaints and incidents.

The warnings, added over time, are:

  • “Do not trespass while playing Pokémon GO.”
  • “Do not enter dangerous areas while playing Pokémon GO.”
  • “Do not drive while playing Pokémon GO.”
  • “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”

The Ugly

Unfortunately, not everyone has heeded these safety warnings. Recent news stories have documented:

  • Two Canadian teens unwittingly wandered from Alberta into Montana during a hunt and were collared by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
  • Two men on a Pokémon hunt fell off an ocean bluff in Encinitas, Calif. Minor injuries were reported after firefighters and police rescued the pair.
  • Three teens were accused of trespassing at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio.
  • A 17-year-old received a $200 trespassing ticket in Utah during a Pokémon hunt at an abandoned warehouse.
  • Baltimore police tweeted this on July 19: “#PokémonGO is not all fun and games. Here is a video of a distracted driver who hit one of our cars. #PlaySafe” (Police say no one was injured when a man hit a squad car because he was focused on his Pokémon prey.)
  • A teen in Auburn, N.Y., slammed into a tree because, police say, he was focused on a Pokémon hunt. He said he was playing while driving, police reported, adding that it resulted in minor injuries (and a mangled car).
  • Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia had to develop a Pokémon policy and post this on its Facebook page: “Out of respect for all those interred at Arlington National Cemetery, we require the highest level of decorum from our guests and visitors. Playing games such as ‘Pokémon GO’ on these hallowed grounds would not be deemed appropriate.”
  • The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington also had to ask people not to play the game on its premises.

Avoid the Dangers of Pokémon GO

Warnings about Pokémon GO safety risks are being issued by national, state, and local governments around the world.

The New York Police Department shared these seven tips for staying safe:

  • Be alert at all times.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Play in pairs or as a group to ensure your safety.
  • Do not drive or ride your bike, skateboard, or other device while interacting with the app – you can’t do both safely.
  • Do not trespass or go where you normally wouldn’t if you weren’t playing Pokémon Go.
  • Be aware and tell your kids about “stranger-danger.” The app draws strangers together in real life at “PokéStops.”
  • Parents, be aware of third-party software apps claiming to enhance the Pokémon GO experience. Giving third-party apps access to your personal information is risky.

Warnings also are flowing about possible crime risks tied to Pokémon, ranging from people being victimized while distracted by their animated prey to the potential of a player “lure” function being used by criminals. Players can use a lure module to draw fellow gamers to a location. Some in law enforcement say tragic things have happened to people lured by criminals, including rape, robbery, and stabbings. There also have been reports of gamers being confronted and even shot at while trespassing, with court cases resulting.

Lawmakers have noticed Pokémon, too. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 1 that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing a risk to children, acted to keep registered sex offenders on parole from playing Pokémon GO. The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision was expected to make it a requirement for supervised release of all sex offenders.

If You are Hurt While Playing

In Rhode Island, if gaming gone bad has you reaching out for legal assistance, turn to Gemma Law Associates Inc. Our RI personal injury attorneys have experience in a wide range of practice areas, including auto accidents, personal injury cases, and wrongful death.

Gemma’s skilled legal team serves the Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Woonsocket, Newport, Bristol, Kent County, and Washington County communities, and we are here for you whenever you need us. Contact us today by calling or filling out our online form to schedule a free initial case evaluation.