The phone buzzes, letting someone know a Pokémon is close enough to catch. They step forward as they toss a ball, slip, and tumble off the edge of a sharp cliff- losing the Pokémon and feeling in your limbs.
This may sound ridiculous, but on July 16th, two Pokémon Go players in Encinitas, California sustained injuries after falling down a cliff measuring between 50 and 90 feet.
Niantic’s smash-hit, which combines the popular Pokémon games with technology from their other gaming app, Ingress, allows players to interact with Pokémon based on their physical location. The world was gripped with “Pokémania” long before the game’s release, and though problems with playing experience have led some to abandon the app, new players download the app every day. Pokémon Go’s extreme popularity has thus lead to some unexpected incidents.
In the search for Pokémon, a few users have found something more gruesome: dead bodies. On July 8th, 19 year old Shayla Wiggins discovered a corpse in Wyoming’s Big Wind River. Authorities suspect the man drowned. Six days later, three women playing in San Diego discovered a body, dead of natural causes, lying in the bushes of Marian Bear Memorial Park.
The in-game Pokéstops and gyms have also caused a bit of a stir. Those markers are based on real-world businesses, historical sites, and tourist locations, but the method for determining which locations become Pokéstops is based on Ingress game data, which selects sites based on criteria such as their popularity in Google Maps and player suggestions. Locations including memorials, museums (including the Holocaust Museum), and sober living facilities have been made Pokéstops, and their respective officials have requested for them to be removed from the game. Users at Pokéstops have also been targeted in attacks and attempted robberies. As a result, Niantic has stated that they are currently working on a way for locations to opt out of Pokéstop or gym status.
Despite these issues, the Pokémon news isn’t all bad.
A pair of former marines playing the game in Orange County spotted a man harassing children at a playground and reported him to law enforcement. As it turned out, they helped catch a man wanted in connection with a murder in Monterey County.
Various dating apps have sprung up around Pokémon Go, and users are meeting new people and making new friends while out catching Pokémon or while gathered around stops.
With increased foot traffic and the gaming system’s encouragement of exploration, Pokémon Go players are also discovering new areas of their towns and cities, bringing forth local history and increasing profits for local businesses willing to capitalize on the game or on their Pokéstop status.
Perhaps the most publicized of the game’s positive effects has been the increase in physical activity. Many, who would normally use mobile gaming as an excuse to stay at home, are out and about searching for Pokémon and travelling between Pokéstops. The mechanism for hatching eggs is based solely on distance, and players are logging miles outside of their normal exercise routine. Even as a casual player, this Claw writer has marched 50 km with the app (over 30 miles). As SLVHS student Rowan Nicolett-Ray said in an interview, “Pokémon Go is getting us to exercise, make new friends, and get out of our houses- and it does it in a way that’s enjoyable.”
Pokémon Go has made waves, but the safety of the app depends on the actions of players. People should stay aware of their surroundings, pay attention to the game’s warnings against trespassing or driving while playing, and be smart about where they go in the pursuit of new Pokémon.
By Kahlo Smith