The Dangers Of Playing Pokemon GO

by Robert Fox

To those of you who have been living in a cave these past couple of weeks, Pokemon GO is out now and people across the country are playing it. Like, a LOT of people…

To those of you saying "What's Pokemon GO?", it is what's known as an "augmented reality" game you can play on your smart phone.

What Is An Augmented Reality Game?

What Is An Augmented Reality Game?
What Is An Augmented Reality Game?

Augmented reality games have been around for some time now, and the premise of these games is to transpose digital game type features onto real world features like a map or a camera, which are found on your phone. And so, since basically everyone has a phone, everyone has the option to try out some of these augmented reality games.

Pokemon GO is a prime example of "augmented reality", and it is only the biggest thing to hit the streets in…well, maybe ever?! Never before have so many gamers emerged from their dark bedrooms and basements to participate in such a huge real world craze. Not only that, but never before have so many non-gamers suddenly morphed into full on addicted gamers (well, not since W.O.W. came out).

Pokemon GO Has Become A Full On Craze

So, yes, Pokemon GO is considered an "augmented reality" game, transposing various charming little beasties onto a real world Google map which is shown on your phone, and your job is to go "catch 'em all!" The thing is, they are popping up everywhere, all the time, all over the world, with many of them being super rare. If catching them all is your quest, good luck to you!

Many of them are very rare, and the rare ones are in increasingly bizarre and obscure locations around the world. Here's a chart showing which Pokemon are more common and which are more rare, to give you an idea of what Pokemons people are after.

When a beastie shows up on the map, your friend across town might see the same Pokemon and this can lead to crowds of people forming to look for the same creature, like this instance with a Squirtle appearing in Bellevue Park in Washington (police responded here to sounds of screaming, one report says).

…or this huge Pokemon GO crowd at Central Park which looks like a protest of some kind, with people rushing to find some sort of digital treasure.

This game is in partnership with Google, which uses its real world mapping technologies to make the game what it is - a combination of using Google's mapping powers with Pokemon's magical cast of creatures, where you, the user, can now go out into your own neighborhood and start catching all of these Pokemon that are here, there, and everywhere.

The fun of it is that their location is not exactly predictable, and so you never know where they'll turn up next. Proponents might suggest that this game is cool because it gets kids who might otherwise stay indoors playing games to go outdoors to play video games. No argument there - this is a fact, people ARE getting outside to play this game.

There is, of course, much more to Pokemon GO it than what we've mentioned already, but we think we've given you an accurate description of its premise, had you not already heard of this game.

Maybe you've started to notice the trend where you are from, with droves of people wandering around staring at their phones. This game is literally taking over towns. Not just big cities but every city! When you see groups of people wandering in these seemingly sociable mobs, it is likely that they are looking for Pokemon in order to fill their Pokedexes. The more Pokemon you catch, the better. You might ask, what does "better" mean? That's the real question, isn't it? Hard to say…you simply go around collecting them and building your collection.

We can't claim to be Pokemon GO experts, so please understand we are not claiming to know all about this game.

That said, our understanding is that the game places these monsters (that you want to find, not avoid) in various places. It could be in your home, it could be outside your house, down the street, at your local church (which are called "gyms" in Pokemon), and other places.

Part of the game's design is to put more rare Pokemons in more obscure locations, like cemeteries or even more out of the way places. This is where things start to get even weirder…

The Dangers Of Pokemon GO

So far, everything we've discussed about Pokemon GO probably makes the game sound pretty fun and intriguing to some people. How can it be dangerous? Well, we're not here to say that this game is not fun, even for adults. Don't think that adults aren't playing this game. Literally everyone is playing this game right now. And some are finding themselves in some fairly hairy situations, as the following video shows…

As you can see, there is potential for both kids and adults to get into some hot water due to this game.

If you are of the mindset that games like this are just for kids, and that maybe if you saw an adult playing this game, you might assume they're in the minority. If that's what you think, prepare to be wrong because adults are just as obsessed with this game as kids are. In fact, today's adults have grown up with Pokemon and so they are quite familiar with the Pokemon universe, and quite comfortable playing this game. This is another reason this game is such a hit.

If Pokemon GO is a totally new idea to you and you're still processing that it even exists out there in the real world, you might want to get tuned in to these potential dangers of this game (and other augmented reality games, for that matter), ASAP.

Danger #1. Pokemon GO Leads To Distracted Walking And Accidents

Let's start with something that's almost so silly that you would think people could avoid it - walking into things. While playing Pokemon GO, you do a lot of staring at your phone…and walking. If you thought smart phones in general were bad for making people distracted, this is much worse! The game itself warns you to always be aware of your environment, and this is the truth, because the game will have you walking around, head lowered, and following the map.

Danger #1. Pokemon GO Leads To Distracted Walking And Accidents
Danger #1. Pokemon GO Leads To Distracted Walking And Accidents (source)

The problem is the map doesn't show you exactly what's in front of you, so you are liable to walk right into poles and trees ( already happened), or into traffic and getting hit ( already happened), or even off a cliff (sigh… already happened). The game itself, since it did warn you, can't be blamed for you walking off a cliff. Sadly, its your fault for not paying attention.

Danger #2. Bad People Are Taking Advantage

As they tend to do, people with malicious intentions are on to the craze of Pokemon Go and are trying their best to take advantage. There are a multitude of risks here, but we will try to mention a few that we feel are the most significant.

First of all, since you're distracted already, its that much easier for someone in an unmarked van to see that you aren't paying attention and try to kidnap you. If you are a grown-up, you have at least a fighting chance against an abductor, but think about kids who are now wandering around totally immersed in this game. Kidnappings, although they are relatively infrequent, may see a rise due to this trend of playing Pokemon GO, as kids just aren't paying attention when they play it.

Next, there are already ads surfacing where creepy people are putting up ads looking to give Pokemon GO players rides around town to catch Pokemon, or "friends" who want to meet up with other people to play the game. For a criminal, there are all sorts of ways they can take advantage of Pokemon GO, beyond simply preying upon unsuspecting players who are roaming the streets.

Also, Pokemon GO seems to be leading people to go places that are more remote to catch more "rare" Pokemons, and this is again a hazard as criminals can take advantage of this as well. To a young Pokemon GO player, they are simply out to catch some rare Pokemon in a forest or behind some deserted building.

However, the reality is they are exposing themselves to numerous dangers involving trespassing, or which could lead to assault, or possibly worse. Police are already responding to huge numbers of calls relating to the game and various "misunderstandings".

Danger #3. In App Transactions And Even More Stranger Danger

We can't claim to know a lot about this particular risk, but if you are a parent, you should know that in the Pokemon GO game there are ways for kids to make transactions. Not only can these transactions be expensive (up to $100 for certain things), but if you don't have the parental settings to prevent these purchases from happening, you might be in for a surprise at the end of the month with your phone bill.

Pokemon GO Chat Feature

We have heard recently about a Pokemon GO chat feature, and while this is purely speculative on our part, having a way for Pokemon GO users to interact via smart phone does run the risk of having your kids communicate with various online Pokemon community members that may want to take advantage of them, since not all people who want to chat are good-intentioned. It has been like this since the internet came along, and creeps who hang out in chat rooms are a constant issue for many reasons.

While you'll need to look into the whole "chat" thing yourself, it would be easy enough for the game to have a chat feature that somehow allows nefarious players to be able to "lure" kids to certain locations because certain Pokemons may be there.

As ridiculous as some of these warnings must sound to a person not familiar with these types of augmented reality games, these dangers are quite real, and by leaving your kids to play this game unsupervised for extended periods of time, you might be in for a rude awakening if something bad happens. Even if you're an adult playing the game, you still could be in danger.

All we are saying is to be vigilant with this game, as it can be distracting. Play safe and have fun!

About Robert Fox

Rob Fox is a former hydro worker who used to teach self defence in Miami for 10 years. He's currently enjoying his retirement, playing cribbage and golf with his buddies, locksmithing and home security in his spare time. Rob is an avid reader, and has even written a few books on the subject of self defence.

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