Pokémon Go has been out for just a few weeks, and not surprisingly the new, free augmented reality app from Niantic is already generating a lot of buzz – but not all of it's good.
Did you hear about these?
1. A Wyoming teen playing Pokémon Go discovers a dead body
According to regional news agency KTVQ, it was a typical sunny Friday morning when 19-year-old Shayla Wiggins of Riverton, Wyoming woke up, grabbed her phone and decided to go hunting for Pokémon. "The Pokémons are all over Riverton," Shayla told reporters. She began her journey by climbing the fence behind her home to a river. In Pokémon Go, water Pokémon appear near real-world water sources, and Shayla thought the river behind her house would be a prime capture location. But a little while after jumping the fence and crossing a bridge along the shoreline, Shayla saw something in the water. "I had to take a second look, and realized it was a body."
The body was described as a male body of average size, wearing a black shirt and black pants. When Shayla spotted it, most of the body was submerged, and so she had to take a closer look. "It was pretty shocking," Shayla said, "At first I didn't know what to do. Then I called 911 right away." Shayla was understandably shaken and told the local news that she cried for a few hours afterward. Detectives were able to report that the body had been there for less than 24 hours before its discovery, and has since released information that the drowning was most likely accidental.
2. Armed muggers use Pokémon Go to lure victims
Over the course of several days, four suspected armed robbers set up an elaborate string of armed robberies throughout the St. Louis and nearby St. Charles County areas. What made these robberies unusual was the discovery by police that the robbers had used Pokémon Go to lure victims to the areas where the robbers were lying in wait.
In Pokémon Go, players can place the now-somewhat-ominously-named "lure beacons" outside PokéStops, which are real-world locations where wild Pokémon appear and where players are able to stock up on items for use in-game. Lure beacons attract wild Pokémon, with the most potent varieties of beacons having a chance of attracting rare Pokémon. Lure beacons are visible to other players of Pokémon Go, and by further advertising the locations of the lure beacons they had set up, the armed suspects were able to lure not just Pokémon, but unwitting victims who'd arrive with their expensive smartphones and tablets in tow.
While the O'Fallon Police Department claims to have arrested all four suspects of the armed robberies around St. Louis, they are understandably advising caution if you use the app, and especially to parents of children who use the app, as it can broadcast your future location to strangers who may have ill or criminal intentions.
3. A spate of injuries reported by players who hurt themselves while playing Pokémon Go
Since Pokémon Go's recent release, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter feeds have been abuzz with reports and anecdotes of people doing stupid things in their quest to catch “all the Pokémon.” And when people do stupid things, people get hurt.
Among the few verifiable injuries to make the evening news include a twisted leg sustained by 22-year old web designer Kyrie Tompkins in Maine, who fell on a sidewalk while walking and playing the game. And a 23-year old waitress in North Carolina cut her hand after tripping over a cinder block while playing Pokémon Go.
Other anecdotal reports involve drivers stopping in the middle of the road and holding up traffic while trying to catch a wild Pokémon while driving – leading various police agencies to issue a warning that playing Pokémon Go, like texting, is an activity that definitely should NOT be played while behind the driver's seat of a vehicle in motion.
4. Pokémon Go players hunting imaginary cartoon monsters in places they really shouldn't
Niantic, the company that developed Pokémon Go, describes that the game runs on an engine devised for an older augmented reality game called Ingress, also made by them. The engine contains real-world locations for 'portals' in Ingress that have been converted to PokéStops, places in Pokémon Go where wild Pokémon appear, or where players can go to purchase accessories and items for use in-game. These real-world coordinates are meant to point to museums and other areas typically intended to be accessible to the public, but this isn't always the case, and in many cases, the game engine's parameters for 'publically-accessible location' must not have been well-enough defined.
One example that made the news is that recently, police in Australia noticed that many smartphone-toting kids and young men and women were crossing the street and wandering into a certain police station in Darwin. As it turns out, this police station was the location of a PokéStop in-game, and players were stopping in to capture a particularly adorable Pokémon called Sandshrew. While the game doesn't require players to actually go inside the buildings to access the PokéStop, this isn't always made apparent to players. And the game does require players to at least be near the real-life physical location of the building, leading to crowds gathering where they normally wouldn't, which can lead to disruption or uncomfortable situations for those working or even living inside those buildings. In response to this unusual spike in visitor traffic to their Darwin station, the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services wrote on their Facebook wall: “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!”
But not all sites are proving to be such good sports towards Pokémon Go players. A director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. recently issued a plea to Pokémon Go players to stop entering the grounds of the museum to hunt imaginary cartoon monsters, calling the practice disrespectful of the solemn space dedicated to remembering the murder of six million Jews during World War II. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, decries the practice, insisting that "there should be a line drawn when it comes to using memorial sites in games... it can't be another scavenger hunt", he writes of using the Holocaust Memorial Museum for games like Pokémon Go, "That's a desecration of the memory of the victims, and it's a cheapening of the history". In response, the makers of Pokémon Go have promised to remove such sensitive sites from their app, but the damage is already done and the headlines made.
The moral of the story? Augmented reality games like Pokémon Go bring players to the fabled, fantastical world called the outside. It's a much bigger playground than we're used to, but the Laws of the Play remain the same: play smart, play responsibly, and play respectfully.