Depending on who you talk to, July 4th was NOT the most important day in July this year. This is because July 6 was the release date for Niantic’s viral sensation Pokemon Go, and the world has not been the same since. Say what you will about the mobile based game that harnesses the power of GPS to allow players to make the world their playground, but the reality of the situation is that the mass appeal of the game stretches beyond millennials and has captivated a cross section of the populations that is as diverse as the characters themselves.
Unlike most app-driven games, Pokemon Go uses the player’s coordinates and mapping technology to create a location-based “augmented reality” gaming experience like any other. Unfortunately, despite the fact that a player’s reality is augmented, the real-world is most certainly carrying on around them and the game has been rife with oddball stories and legal situations almost from the beginning. Now that the a few months have passed since it release, it is high-time to reflect on just what we can learn from the legal predicaments facing many captivated by Pokemon Go.
A 24-year-old New Zealand man reportedly quit his job to pursue Pokémon full-time. At last count, he had accumulated 91 of 150 available Pokemon as he crisscrossed Australia—bear in mind this was only a few days after it release, so, with any luck, this gentleman may have possibly collected all 151 and may be enjoying his “retirement.”
In Georgia, a dedicated player followed her Pokemon (rumors suggest a “Squirtle”) into a graveyard only to find herself trapped inside. Unable to find her way back out, she contacted the police by dialing 911. The tapes are amusing, but the time wasted by authorities was significant.
In that the game is location-based the fictional characters in Pokemon Go are taking some players to challenging locales. Given the technology packed into most smartphones, in most circumstances, the little buggers will not draw their pursuers into overtly dangerous locales. Still, a warning appears at the beginning of the game telling players to be aware of their surroundings every time the app is opened. Still, a number of players have stepped into potentially dangerous situations, possibly raising liability questions.
- A woman in Maine twisted her ankle while distracted chasing Pokemon;
- A Long Island graduate student who reportedly suffered an injury as he fell off his skateboard in hot pursuit;
- Multiple lawsuits have been filed that allege that auto accidents were caused by players pursuing Pokemon characters while behind the wheel;
- Two men, ages 21 and 22, were reportedly playing Pokémon Go when they fell off a cliff on July 14 in San Diego. Lifeguards reported the incident according to News 7. First responders from the Encinitas Fire Department found one man approximately 80 feet down a cliff, and the other man unconscious about 50 feet down the cliff. It is reported that the men climbed over a fence with a warning sign to locate a Pokémon character—despite the obvious risk.
Three Points that We Can Really Learn:
- The Same Phone Safety Rules Apply—But Games Make Them Harder to Follow. For years now, the statistics have been startling about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. In 2011 for instance, 23% of all auto accidents involved a cell phone. When addressing the impact of a location based games like Pokemon Go, it is important to understand that the “game” or competition element of the game actually ads an extra level of distraction that does not exist in garden variety texting or emailing. It is basic human psychology that while playing a competitive game, or participating in any sort of competitive activity, many people concentrate harder than when performing a non-competitive activity. Accordingly, unless someone is trying to send as many texts as possible in a certain period of time, a game like Pokemon Go may actually be more of a distraction than a phone conversation or responding to an email.
- The Law Will Be Tested, and Evolve. The recent progress in location-based technology has changed the way individuals interact. Whether Facebook posting, catching a ride on Uber, or chasing Pokemon, sharing locations through smart devices is rife with a host of legal and safety concerns. Over the next few years, look for changes in present law as society grapples to adjust to with the impact of individual locations being made public. Privacy concerns, as well as general safety concerns will be flushed out as our communal reliance on location-based technology grows. Finally, the viability of the warnings posted to the game may be tested as well given the wide range of age groups that are participating.
- Many Injuries Will Be Unreported. Let’s face it, if you sustained an injury while playing Pokemon Go, you would be embarrassed to admit it. While missing work after a serious automobile accident may be met with sympathy, missing work after turning an ankle while pursuing a Dragonair will have people questioning your sanity. Accordingly, the true measure of injuries while playing Pokemon Go will be difficult to determine.
When a new phenomenon like Pokemon Go hits the scene, legal issues always follow. This is a healthy and natural progression. Still, it is far more preferable to follow the latest developments in the news or in the blogs than to be the example yourself. So be careful out there on your way to the Pokemon Gym, and now that the game will be available on the iWatch, keep your eyes peeled for folks checking the time as well