This story was produced by a student in the Madison365 Academy, Madison365’s journalism training program.
Last weekend, in separate incidents, two men crashed their cars into trees in Verona. They both told Dane County Sheriff’s they were playing the game Pokemon Go at the time.
Pokemon Go, “a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game”, was released on July 6, 2016, and already the app is more popular than Candy Crush Saga and Twitter; however, safety concerns have been raised as incidents of players being injured have been reported nationwide.
In California, two men walked off of a cliff because they were paying attention to the game instead of where they were walking. There have been car accidents where drivers were playing Pokemon Go, including one in Baltimore where the driver rammed into a police car. Signs have even gone up on interstates and highways saying, “Drive now, catch pokemon later.”
The loading page of the game warns players to “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.” Already videos and shirts have emerged making fun of the game and showing dangerous things that can happen when players aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. The shirts make fun of the situations that have been on the news and the players with slogans like “Warning: May walk into oncoming traffic” or “I only exercise when I’m hatching eggs.”
As with anything else, Pokemon Go has its proponents and detractors. Some say Pokemon Go is making people who normally stay inside to go out and explore, exercise and meet new people. The game is also helping people meet others with similar interests through a dating app developed based on it. Some animal shelters have even taken advantage of the app by asking people to volunteer with them by simply walking dogs while they are walking around with the game.
A woman from the Madison area who plays the game said it’s not right to blame the game for anything negative that comes from playing it. “The game doesn’t make the players do anything,” she said. “The people choose to do whatever they do.”
On the other hand, there have been reports of people using lures — meant in the game to attract Pokemon characters — to attract lone players, who may then be stabbed and robbed. Phones, money and other valuables have been taken from the victims, and police in some places have given warnings about criminal activity relating to the game.
Many local players take common-sense precautions. Player Amanda Perttunen says, “I always hunt with a friend and we don’t go out after dark. We also avoid bad neighborhoods or areas we are completely unfamiliar with.. even at 28 years old…I’m not willing to take any chances.”
“I’ve never gotten into trouble or been in any danger that I’ve known about,” says local player David Norris. “I protect myself with a concealed weapon that I have a permit to carry. It goes with me everywhere I go, whether I am playing the game or not. I’ve been out at night playing, since that is when I have free time.”
It’s not only physical trouble that Pokemon Go players need to avoid, but legal trouble. Many players now don’t pay attention to the signs warning them of danger or trespassing, and that can land them in court. One example of this is on July 14th when a couple of players, Robin Bartholomy and Adrian Crawford, trespassed into Toledo Zoo around 1:30am. They were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and were banned from the zoo.
Other cases of players wandering to places they wouldn’t normally go aren’t as serious — and could be beneficial to businesses, as people find their way into stores and offices that they wouldn’t otherwise. By encouraging the players to walk more, their pets may be getting more exercise as well.
One local player, who asked to remain anonymous, says, “My mom and I go for a couple walks a day now, to PokeStops around our home. We walk so much our dog doesn’t want to walk with us anymore.”
It’s not difficult to play and remain safe, several local players say. Erin Luecht Fourqurean agrees with the safety tips, saying, “I’ve never encountered a Pokemon that didn’t wait till I crossed the road for it to be caught. Put your phone in your pocket, and it will vibrate if a Pokemon is nearby. Once you’re across the street and out of the way of foot traffic, you can catch the Pokemon that you were alerted to.”
Local Madison player Anna Marie follows the rules she always has to keep her and her son safe while playing. “I am very careful,” she says. “I take my 2-year-old son with me generally when I’m Pokemon hunting to get a walk in. We put the phone down and look both ways to cross the road, we ensure that there are no suspicious people watching us and I don’t take my son by lured areas unless I know that it s a safe zone like the park by my apartment. I also try to engage in conversation with people Pokemon hunting if they chose to not be so friendly I scoot away to the next thing. Don’t ever Pokemon and drive and don’t stop taking proper precautions, also remember what is off limits like construction zones and stay off private property that’s just rude. Life rules still exist whether Pokemon Go exists or not.”