As the virtual world of technology and the real world of our physical lives come into greater convergence, the chances for them to come together in bad and dangerous ways increases.
Over the weekend, we’ve gotten to see the latest way that these two worlds can collide with bad consequences in the form of a new app for iOS and Android, “Pokemon Go.”
“Pokemon Go” is the latest offering from the frenzy-inducing Pokemon franchise. In “Pokemon Go,” the tagline “Gotta catch ‘em all” is translated into our physical world using your mobile device and “augmented reality.” Pokémon Go uses the GPS capabilities of your device in conjunction with Google Maps to “place” creatures in real world locations, which you then try to find them using your device as a guide. Once you are in proximity to the “placed” creature, you then use your device’s camera to “view” the creature and try to “capture” it. This works with you using your device as a viewer to “see” the creature near you by looking at an image from the camera with the creature superimposed on it. You then “capture” the creature for points by throwing Poké Balls at it on the device’s screen.
In addition, Pokémon Go directs people to specific real world locations to battle for gyms, places where Pokémon creatures can be trained to increase levels.
If you set aside the way gameplay interacts with the real, physical world, there’s nothing really new here. But the way Pokémon Go uses “augmented reality” to play out in the real world is truly unique and unprecedented. And so it is showing new, previously unforeseen risks in this kind of augmented reality game.
The risks this augmented reality game exposes are physical risks to actual life and limb. Just days after its release, Pokémon Go’s real-world gameplay has been linked to armed robberies as criminals have used the game to locate and lure intended targets. There are reports of trespassing as enthusiastic players try to “find” and “capture” creatures on others’ property. In the United States, gamers trespassing on others’ property face a real threat of physical harm from property owners who may use force to protect their property. And of course, there’s the risk of injury or death from not paying attention to your surroundings as you play the game.
This last risk is obvious and easy to overlook in its obviousness. But I’ve tested the game and that risk can’t be overstated. The game is fun and, like any video game, it takes your full attention immediately to the exclusion of all else. And the gameplay demands and requires your full attention. Yes, there is a warning each time you start the game to be sure to pay attention, but that warning is quickly overlooked.
This isn’t to say people shouldn’t play the game. But people need to understand this type of game is new and introduces whole new categories of risks. Given the frenzied buzz around this game already, I think we can be sure that there will be other “augmented reality” games coming soon. And so it’s all the more important that we understand the risks and take appropriate steps to accept or reject the risks.
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