They are everywhere. Public parks, well-traversed thoroughfares, and even in your place of business. Armed with only a smartphone and a disturbing lack of peripheral awareness, they stalk their digital prey using augmented reality. They are Pokemon Go users and they can be visually differentiated from their equally-distracted texting peers by the angle at which they are holding their phone. If their head is down and their phone is parallel to the ground they are probably texting, if their head is up and their phone is in front of them and perpendicular to the ground they are playing Pokemon Go. Both could lead to vehicular homicide.
I first became aware of the phenomenon while working in my front yard several days ago. A family that lives on a connecting street was walking up the sidewalk but constantly stopping to hold their phone in front of their face. At first it appeared that they had become disoriented and were unable to find their way home, but after a brief conversation they explained to me that they were playing a game.
In fact, they informed me that they were heading to a nearby cemetery as it appeared to be a hotbed of Pokemon activity. At the conclusion of our conversation, I waved and uttered one of those sentences I never thought that I would say (“Have fun in the cemetery!”) While they are courteous people and would not have interrupted a graveside service in the pursuit of a fictional cartoon monster; I fear not all of their peers would exhibit the same decorum.
Since then, I have seen stories of teenagers stumbling across dead-bodies and criminals utilizing gathering points in the game (known as “gyms”) as opportunities to relieve players of their cash and valuables. Privacy concerns abound – what other app would you so willingly give control of your camera and GPS to? – and others are worried about traffic accidents that could be caused by players.
On the flip side, it could also bring neighbors and families together while prompting participants to stay active and explore their community. Nintendo – who owns a large stake in the Pokemon franchise – has increased its market value by $9 Billion in just a few days based upon the game's phenomenal success. With financial rewards like that at stake, I expect this will not be Nintendo’s last foray into augmented-reality gaming. I cannot wait for Resident Evil Go.
While I have not personally played it (as I fear doing so could become so engrossing that I might forget that I have a wife, children, and a need to bathe) I suppose it could be a positive trend with a few important ground rules. I have compiled a preliminary list of places that you should not be playing Pokemon Go:
Public Restrooms – Can you imagine being in a Flying J men’s room when someone comes in with their smartphone camera aimed at your urinal muttering something about “trying to capture a Jigglypuff”? This is fertile ground for a rather serious misunderstanding.
Funeral Homes – As you gently shed tears over the casket of your beloved Nana, an employee asks if you could scooch over so that he could finally get that Pikachu that has been evading him all day. Oh, and he’s sorry for your loss.
Presidential Rope Lines – I am sure that you will have plenty of time to explain to the secret service why you were pushing people out of the way while brandishing your smartphone. How can you be held responsible that Onix was hiding behind the Commander in Chief?
Operating Theaters – While we would all like to pretend that neurosurgeons and cardiologists are far too professional to become obsessed with capturing cartoon characters, there is a very real danger that someone’s appendectomy could take a nasty turn if a Charizard wanders into the operating room.
Airplanes – “Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. If everyone would be kind enough to return to your seats, a member of the flight crew will be by to collect any trash or Golems in your seating area. Please report any suspicious Voltorbs to the air marshal.”
Narcotics Stings – Given that just about any of the Pokemon monsters could easily double as a slang term for a street drug, it might not be wise to wander around rough neighborhoods inquiring as to where one might find some “Electrabuzz” “Weedle” or “Alakazam.”
The game appears to be so captivating that people forget where they are and mindlessly gather at pre-determined “gyms” with no though to their own personal safety. Perhaps we could weaponize the game to further weaken ISIS by placing the “gym” in a strike zone. I can imagine the president addressing the nation:
“My fellow Americans,
Just hours ago, at my command, Squirtle and Poliwag were strategically deployed to a remote area outside Mosul. Within minutes, several members of ISIS leadership began to gathering and we had reason to believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was present. I ordered an airstrike and I am pleased to announce that we have dealt a decisive blow to the leadership of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Diglett and Snorlax were unable to be evacuated and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I have spoken to their families and expressed my deepest condolences and the condolences of a grateful nation. All gave some, some gave Charmander."