Pokemon Go: The Hazards of Catching ’em All

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‘Pokemon Go’ is taking the world by storm — but can there be unexpected consequences?

On July 6, Pokemon Go hit App Stores and Google Play Stores nationwide. Within days, it became difficult, if not impossible, to spend more than a few minutes outdoors without seeing someone slowly passing by, eyes glued to his phone, aggressively swiping the screen. Two weeks ago, such a person would be looked upon with confusion and possible concern. Now it’s a common occurrence.

Pokemon Go, Niantic’s massively popular augmented reality phone app, allows users to live out their 1996 dreams of “catching ’em all” by traveling around the map to collect as many of the first-generation fictional creatures as possible. Unlike the game’s predecessors, it’s virtually impossible to play the game without traveling. The farther users move, the wider variety of Pokemon they will encounter.

There are added benefits to traveling while using the app, as real world geography directly impacts the species of Pokemon that users will encounter. On the beach, users are increasingly likely to find “water-type” Pokemon, such as the fish-like Magikarp, while in the desert, users will find more “fire-type” Pokemon, like the Ponyta, a horse with a fiery tail and mane.

The app has been extremely successful, with over 15 million downloads a week after its release, and for good reason.1 Critics are praising the game for its clear benefit of encouraging users to exercise along with its less obvious mental health benefits. Users have reported a significant decrease of symptoms associated with depression and social anxiety as the game has motivated them to exercise, which previous studies have repeatedly shown to help people’s mental health. Finding the motivation to exercise while battling mental illness is difficult, however, and Pokemon Go has given many of these individuals the inspiration they needed.2

Not Just Fun and Games

While there are health benefits to the game, it’s already been shown to present a variety of risks. In the week after its release, a woman found a human body while searching for Pokemon,3 and multiple accounts of armed robberies have been reported after the app was used to lure players to isolated locations.4 With such reports already coming to light such a short period of time after the app’s release, what other hazards could emerge?

Many users have reported negative health effects caused by use of the app. Perhaps unsurprisingly, several of these complaints mention sore legs and fatigue, which are likely just side effects of exercise.5 However, many reported effects are not as easily dismissed.

Several incidents were reported via social media within days of the game’s release by users who sustained injuries while playing the game. One user fell into a ditch while playing, fracturing the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot. Countless others have fallen off of bicycles and skateboards while attempting to catch rare Pokemon, while more have reported becoming severely sunburned as a result of walking long distances without sunscreen.5,6

Users have already posted on social media about playing the game while driving, and some even reported being subsequently pulled over for suspicious driving.7 However, far more severe injuries began to come to light by the second  week after the game’s release. Two men fell 50-100 feet off of a bluff in California while attempting to catch Pokemon, and both suffered moderate injuries.8 A 15-year-old girl was hit by a car while running across a major highway in Pennsylvania in pursuit of Pokemon, subsequently being hospitalized for injuries to her collarbone and foot.9 Another man in Oregon crashed his car into a tree while driving in search of a particularly rare Pokemon, breaking his leg and totaling his brother’s car.10

Putting Safety Before Pokemon

With an app as popular as Pokemon Go, it’s unrealistic to expect users to put the game down altogether, even in light of safety and health concerns. After all, in addition to being entertaining, the app has shown many positive health effects. However, users can — and should — be expected to exercise the same caution they would if they were texting. The app’s loading screen advises users to stay aware of their surroundings, and truly, they need to take the advice to heart. A good rule of thumb is to ask, “Would I do this while texting?” If the answer is no, then it shouldn’t be done while playing Pokemon Go.

Though this may be a fun app, the health and safety of users must be put first. So, next time you’re out catching Pokemon, first consider your safety and that of everyone around you. Look out for yourself and others — you can still catch ’em all.

Sarah Sutherland is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: ssutherland@advanceweb.com

References

  1. Molina, B. Report: Pokemon Go downloads top 15 million. USA Today. 2016.
  2. Grohol, J. Pokemon Go reportedly helping people’s mental health, depression. PsychCentral. 2016.
  3. Bowerman, M. Woman discovers body while playing ‘Pokemon Go.’ USA Today. 2016.
  4. Pelegrin, W. Pokemon no: suspects believed to have used ‘Pokemon Go’ to rob players. Digital Trends. 2016.
  5. Titlow, J. Pokemon Go players are wandering into a world of pain. Fast Company. 2016.
  6. Park, A. Pokemon Go users are reporting injuries, car crashes and sunburns in their quests to ‘catch ’em all.’ People. 2016.
  7. Bontke, J. Pokemon Go app creates safety concerns for Central Texans. KEYE TV. 2016.
  8. Rocha, V. 2 California men fall off edge of ocean bluff while playing ‘Pokemon Go.’ Los Angeles Times. 2016.
  9. Makuch, E. 15-year-old hit by car after playing Pokemon Go. Gamespot. 2016.
  10. Campuzano, E. Oregon man crashes into a tree playing ‘Pokemon Go.’ Oregon Live. 2016.
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Sarah Sutherland
Sarah Sutherland

Sarah Sutherland is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: ssutherland@advanceweb.com

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