The new smartphone app Pokémon Go begins with a warning screen. For a video game, it is an unusual sort of disclaimer. It is not a parental heads-up about critter-on-critter violence. Nor is it an echo of the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids should limit their gaming to about two hours daily.
Pokémon Go simply wants its players to avoid physical trauma.
Pokémon Go is a departure from previous iterations of the fantasy bug-collecting game. Played on a smartphone screen in lieu of a Game Boy or other handheld console, Pokémon Go uses cameras and GPS to construct an augmented reality in which collectible 3-D monsters float over physical locales.
To collect these digital critters, you have to get off the couch, get outside and track them down.
A land-dwelling Pikachu might hang out at the base of, say, the Washington Monument, while trainers (the term for those who play the game) may have to trot over to the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool to capture the fishy creature Magikarp. Digital Pokémon infest buildings, too. The bullish Tauros rampaged through The Washington Post’s break room early Thursday morning.
The team behind Pokémon Go — developers Niantic Labs and video game giant Nintendo — is concerned that you may walk off a bridge, for instance, while you are engrossed in a real-world hunt for the digital critters. Recognizing that the app, which launched in the United States late Wednesday, may encourage the sort of obliviousness that comes when noses are buried in smartphones, other groups began issuing their own warnings, too.
So far, the admonitions have been cheeky: Pokémon Go depicts danger as a cartoon sea serpent. On Facebook, an Australian police force asked Pokémon Go trainers not to burst into stations despite the urge to collect ’em all.
“The novelty of seeing a Pokémon superimposed onto your sidewalk is delightful,” wrote The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama, who recently reviewed an early version of the game. (Though certain features, she said, like monster battles, left something to be desired.) Pokémon Go has the potential to be immensely popular, as it is Nintendo’s first smartphone app to showcase the 20-year-old franchise. The early interest, at least, seems promising; it had been downloaded in the United States at least 50,000 times within the first 12 hours, according to a ticker at the Google Play store.
Pokémon Go’s interface, akin to Google Maps, is littered with Pokestops — specific landmarks where players collect game-boosting items. That the Darwin, Australia, police station is one such landmark prompted a Facebook post Wednesday from the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services: “For those budding Pokémon Trainers out there using Pokémon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs,” the agency wrote.
A representative for the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services told The Post that one of its officers downloaded the game and then recommended the Facebook message. It was a bit of a joke, she said, as no one has yet to enter the police station in pursuit of Poké Balls or Pikachu.
But players would be wise to exercise caution in their quest to be a Pokémon master. Niantic Labs pioneered its location-based gaming technology with “Ingress,” an area-control mobile game in which players capture portals (similar to Pokémon Go’s Pokestops and gyms). “Ingress” has attracted players by the millions, according to a Niantic blog post Wednesday, and some “have literally traveled to the ends of the earth” to capture portals.
As “Ingress” grew in popularity, some players admitted to taking risks like playing in cars, near sinkholes or too close to bicycle lanes. The game has been associated with at least one death. A 48-year-old Irish man lost his life while on a nocturnal mission to capture a portal near a pier in September, according to a Dublin inquest.
“The pier is open at both sides, the surface was uneven, it was night time, there are no lights, it was in the course of this game Ingress,” the coroner said, according to the Irish Times. Niantic Labs has since removed the portal near the pier.
As the Australian police organization pointed out on Facebook, players should navigate augmented worlds just as carefully as vanilla realities. “That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast,” they wrote. “Stay safe and catch ’em all.”