Children of the 90s everywhere are rejoicing in a recently released game called Pokémon GO by Niantic, Inc. The game is for smartphones only and is basically Pokémon meets geo-caching. The object, as I understand it, is to find Pokémon “in the real world” by walking around holding your smartphone out in front of you and following a real-time interactive map that shows you where your quarry is hiding. Once you physically get to that location, you can “capture” the critter, after which you can train it, fight it and all the wonderful things one can do with a Pokémon. Already a week old, the game is taking off like wildfire. As with anything else, it has its plusses and minuses. Here, then, are the pleasures, perils and pitfalls of Pokémon hunting.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a child of the 80s. For me, it was all about the music. Not to mention that when it comes to video games, unless they are the epitome of simple, I lack the basic eye-hand coordination to do anything but amuse anyone who happens to be watching my feeble attempts at playing. So, not only was Pokémon not my jam, I suck at these games. ‘Nuff said about my lack of skillz. Here’s how I learned about Pokémon GO.
Picture it: Sunday morning, nice and sunny. I’m sitting in my studio playing with my cat as I usually do every morning. The windows are open as it had been a particularly nice night. I look out and see two men, roughly mid-20s, walking around with their smartphones as though they were reading a map. Mind you, there are 167 units in my apartment complex so I don’t know every single one of my neighbors by sight. One of the men stops in front of my home (single-story ranch-style building) and says to his companion, “I just found one right here!”
Back to me. I am, by nature, a suspicious creature. I have also been through law school, which will make even the most trusting soul a little bit suspicious. My first thought was, “These guys are looking for Wi-Fi networks to hack.” That thought was followed with relief because mine is password protected. The relief was followed by the realization that password protection means about as much to an experienced hacker as “Please don’t eat me!” means to a hungry grizzly bear.
So, being the suspicious creature that I am, I called the non-emergency number to our local police department. The kind gentleman officer asked how he could help me. I told him I wanted to report some suspicious activity, gave him my address and a description, both of the two gentlemen and their activity. What happened next made my day. Seriously.
The kind gentleman officer started to laugh. My initial, internal, response was, “What the #@%&!?” Then he explained, still chuckling, that they were playing Pokémon GO. After I asked him to clarify (and he did), I started laughing so hard I’m surprised he didn’t send a cruiser equipped with a straight-jacket to my home. We had a good laugh and hung up. That day, I counted six teams (a total of eight people) patrolling the parking lot of my apartment complex hunting Pokémon. I even talked to a couple of them, who assured me it was the most addictive thing ever, as well as a great way to get exercise. Imagine! A video game that requires players to walk around outside!
We’ve just covered the pleasures and potential pitfalls of hunting Pokémon. To recap the pleasures: addictive video game from one’s 90s childhood, a reason to be outside on a beautiful day and exercise. To recap the pitfalls: crazy(ish) old(er) people like me who think the players are up to some nefarious purpose and call the police. Granted, that call was hardly a pitfall but consider this:
What if I didn’t live in a neighborhood with a relatively low crime rate and what if the police hadn’t heard of this new game? Worse yet, what if this had been after dark and I was a very confrontational individual?
Now, this innocent game takes on a darker twist. I want to go on record that I am not at the “Get off my lawn!” stage (yet), but there are people who are there. There are people who shoot first and ask questions later. There are people who are more suspicious than I am (hard to imagine, but true).
Heck, I actually considered downloading the game. After all, I could use more fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Then I learned that once you capture the mythical little buggers, you have to spend all this time training them, etc. Not to be a buzzkill, but I do not have that kind of free time and if I did, I’d probably be on Twitter because yeah, that’s my addiction.
I went to my dentist today. That odd non-sequitur is the perfect introduction to the perils of Pokémon hunting and the purpose of this article.
We were having a laugh at my Sunday morning experience (and I got to see, firsthand, what the game looks like in action as one of the staffers plays it), when she mentioned that armed robbers in O’Fallon, Missouri hacked the game. They set up a beacon in the game that lured unsuspecting players to a given location where the players were then robbed at gunpoint! Say what!? Yup, robbed at gunpoint.
Then, I learned that a teenaged girl in Wyoming was searching for a water Pokémon (the game says to find certain types, you must search their “native” habitats). I don’t know if she ever caught her critter, but she did find a dead body floating in the river. The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office issued the following statement:
“The death appears to be accidental in nature and possibly that of a drowning. There is no evidence at this time that would indicate foul play. Evidence located at the scene has led investigators to believe the man went into the water at the location he was found. The body was located in about three feet of water on the east side of the Wind River Bridge.”
Talk about an unpleasant discovery! I hope the teenager is OK. Finding a dead body like that can leave its own type of damage.
Speaking of damage, personal injuries are on the rise among Pokémon GO players, too. They’re so engrossed in following the (admittedly cool) map that they fail to see reality until it’s too late. Said one Reddit user:
“Not even 30 minutes after the release last night, I slipped and fell down a ditch. Fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in my foot, 6-8 weeks for recovery. I told all the doctors I was walking my dog lol… Watch where you’re going, folks!”
And it gets ever stranger, worse and more potentially dangerous. Players have reported minor (so far) incidents while Pokémon hunting behind the wheel of the car they’re driving. Yes, hunting while driving!
So, there you have it: the pleasures, perils and pitfalls of Pokémon hunting. I’m all for video games (despite an apparent genetic inability to play them) and getting outside, etc. But, for the love of all that’s sane, folks, please be careful out there! Pay attention to your surroundings and DON’T hunt while driving! While I’m sure there are some cool Pokémon roaming your local county jail, I’m also pretty sure that you won’t be allowed to have your smartphone with you to capture them.
Think I’m kidding? The Darwin Police Station in Northern Australia issued the following statement to eager Pokémon hunters who were trying to enter the station to capture Pokémon:
“For those budding Pokémon Trainers out there using Pokémon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokéstop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the Pokéballs. It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!”