DEATH BY POKEMO
It’s the talk of the town, or at least, of my town. People walking off of cliffs, getting injured, facing arrest, even getting killed…all in pursuit of Pokemon monsters. Say what? If don’t have a clue what Pokemon monsters are, think back to 1996. That’s when the original Pokemon game hit the market. Back then, enthusiasts watched a wide variety of mini-monsters (the word “Pokemon” is a smush of the words “pocket” and “monster”) flash by on a Game Boy device.1
The monsters aren’t all that scary—most look like kid’s toys—which might account at least in part for the runaway popularity of the game from the start. To play, you tried to capture as many of the little fiends as possible by encapsulating them in virtual balls you threw at them on your Game Boy. The goal was to train the captured monsters to be good fighters, and then to set them out to vanquish other Pokemon monsters.
As time and technology changed, so did the Pokemon game. It graduated from being hosted on Game Boys to more sophisticated devices, finally achieving status as an Android app. Now, there’s a new iteration of the game called “Pokemon Go,” and it’s so popular—to the tune of up to 21 million players a day— that it’s making news worldwide, mostly because fanatical players have gotten themselves into big trouble. According to “Vice News,” in the less than two months since the release of the game, 75 people have already been subject to crime, violence, or even death connected to the game. 2
There is a positive to the new game, though, and it should be acknowledged.
The difference between the new Pokemon and the older versions is this: the new Pokemon GO uses GPS and cameras to place the monsters in your physical environment. You see a map of your current location on the screen of your handheld device, and then a Pokemon monster may appear onscreen, superimposed on top of the image of the location in front of you. There are over 100 types of monsters you might encounter, ranging from Fairies to Ghosts to Bugs and Flying Things, and each type of location has specific types of monsters associated with it.3 And so, if you’re walking through the mall looking at your phone and you have your Pokemon GO application on, a Flying monster might just show up approximately in the bra section of Victoria’s Secret, or a Bug monster under the cash register at Starbucks. To vanquish the little imps, you’ll need to get yourself to the location shown and throw a Pokeball, attempting to trap the monsters inside the ball.
Proponents of Pokemon GO! say the game is not only incredibly fun, but it’s also good for health. For one thing, to catch the little monsters, game players need to get out and go walking. Advocates say that the game is getting people into shape, as once they get hooked into chasing down monsters, they’ll keep walking a long time in pursuit.
"Pokémon Go stimulated substantial amounts of physical activity in many likely-otherwise sedentary game players without intending to!” said Dr. Tom Baranowski, who teaches pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, after conducting a controlled study.4 “We might call this stealth exergame programming, and we have a lot to learn about how to achieve this!"
His colleague, Professor Matt Hoffman of the Texas A&M College of Nursing, enthusiastically agrees and, in fact, plays the game himself.5 He says, “I've spent an hour or two at a time venturing around the community to find Pokéstops (places where the monsters congregate). And, to hatch one egg, a trainer must walk anywhere from one to six miles. There's no doubt about it, I am exercising more as a result of playing the game, and I am enjoying it."
Others point to substantial mental health benefits.6 It can be a social boon, combatting loneliness, as players often team up or meet others also playing as they roam the “hood.” In fact, a recent survey of 1000 Pokemon Go players found that 74 percent preferred playing with partners, and 52 percent said they had made new friends as a result of playing the game.7 Anecdotal reports flooding Twitter and other social media platforms croon about the way the game helps to combat depression and anxiety. Some hypothesize that the game could help people on the Autism spectrum, and that it might benefit cognition.
But now we need to look at the other side of the coin.
In spite of the glowing (if glazed-eye) reports from fans of the game, as indicated earlier, the Pokemon Go news isn’t all good. One problem is that some players get so focused on the screen that they forget to look where they’re going. And so it is that one man crashed his car into a police cruiser in Baltimore while chasing Pokemon monsters.8 Meanwhile, two players walked right off a 100-foot cliff near Encinitas, California last month. All survived, but there have been mounting numbers of injuries beside these and others haven’t been so lucky, including two pedestrians just last week in Japan who were hit by a Pokemon-playing truck driver. One of the pedestrians died and the other suffered severe injuries. And then there are all the crimes committed in the pursuit of the bad guys, some of those crimes benign, others fatal. There were teens shot to death in Guatemala after breaking into a home to smite a monster; another killed while parked outside a home in Florida, mistaken for a stalker. There have been numerous stabbings, crimes involving luring Pokemon players into vulnerable positions, and as a result, warnings issued by municipalities and national governments worldwide. And then there are all the just plain stupid things. Women walking into men’s rooms, players bumbling into lakes and ruining their phones, crashing into walls and so on.
In fact, in the short few months since the release of the game, there have been enough incidents for several governments to issue warnings or restrictions.9 In Bosnia, citizens have been warned to watch out for landmines in their Pokemon-pursuits. In Kuwait, the game is banned at government sites. In Indonesia, government officials warned that the game poses a security threat, while in Saudi Arabia, the game has been labelled anti-Islam and banned. Even in the US, the military has warned game-players about entering restricted areas.10
The bottom line is that people love the game, and it isn’t going away anytime soon—at least not until buses start crashing into each other with some regularity or until entire classrooms walk off the cliff together. In fact, there’s plenty of agitation from countries that don’t yet have the game available to rush the process. A note from a Pokemon-starved fan in China that appeared in the Washington Post tells the story:11
“As you know, China has the largest number of population of the world. No doubt that we will absolutely have the largest number of Pokemon players if you release this amazing game in China. We are sure you will not regret for letting us join the Big Pokemon Family of the world. Thank you guys for working hard everyday and night to make this game better and better. Hope to hear from you soon.”
- 1. Thier, Dave. “What is Pokemon GO, and Why Is Everybody Talking About It?” 11 July 2016. Forbes. 24 August 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2016/07/11/facebook-twitter-social-what-is-pokemon-go-and-why-is-everybody-talking-about-it
- 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeikEYjUXbk
- 3. Caldwell, Serenity, Gil, Lory, and Karner, Jen. “Beginner’s Guide: How to Play Pokemon Go!” 20 August 2016. IMore. 26 August 2016. http://www.imore.com/pokemon-go
- 4. Varandami, Sudam. “’Pokemon GO! Health Benefits: Are Augmented Reality Games Making Us Healthier?”20 August 2016. Medical Daily. 27 August 2016. http://www.medicaldaily.com/pokemon-go-health-benefits-are-augmented-reality-games-making-us-healthier-395475
- 5. “Health Benefits of Pokemon Go” 15 July 2016. —Science Daily. 27 August 2016. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160715181715.htm
- 6. Saifi, Rahis. “Pokemon Go’s Mental Health Benefits are Real.” 26 July 2016. The Huffington Post. 27 August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rahis-saifi/pokemon-gos-mental-health_b_11204184.html
- 7. Survey Gives First Systematic Study of Pokemon Go Players.” 14 July 2016. MFour. 27 August 2016. https://mfour.com/survey-gives-first-systematic-study-of-pokemon-go-players/
- 8. Miller, Ryan W. “The Bad and the Ugly of Pokemon GO!” 22 July 2016. USA Today. 26 August 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gaming/2016/07/21/bad-and-ugly-pokmon-go/87378730/
- 9. Tracy, Abigail. “Governments Around World Are Warning Citizens About Pokemon Go.” 21 July 2016. Vanity Fair. 27 August 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/07/pokemon-go-government-warnings
- 10. “Military Base Issues Pokemon Go Warning.” 19 July 2016. Fox News Tech. 27 August 2016. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2016/07/19/military-base-issues-pokemon-go-warning.html
- 11. Barbash, Fred. “Pokemon Go on decline, reports say, as Japan has first death related to the game.” 25 August 2016. Washington Post. 27 August 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/08/25/japan-reports-first-death-related-to-pokemon-go/