The runaway success of Pokémon GO highlights safety issues of augmented-reality gaming

Pokemon GO iPhone sreenshot 001

The runaway success of Pokémon GO is undeniable. In a few short days since its debut last week, the freemium title has become the top free app on the US App Store and the most downloaded and highest-grossing app in the countries where it is available. It sent Nintendo shares up 25 percent, adding $7.5 billion to the company’s market capitalization. Furthermore, the game is about to surpass Twitter among Android users in the United States in terms of daily active users.

But there’s a darker side to its success as widespread media coverage combined with pent-up interest and the power of the Nintendo and Pokémon brands in some cases seem to be resulting in a string of thefts, burglaries and even car accidents and other injuries.

The dangers of augmented-reality gaming

The augmented-reality concept of Pokémon GO has claimed its first “victims”.

Take, for example, Mike Shultz, a 21-year-old communications graduate in Long Island, New York, who fell over while looking for Pokémon on his skateboard.

Pokemon GO Mike Schultz injury

Then there’s Lindsay Plunkett, a 23-year-old waitress in the United States who tripped over a cinder block that had been used as a doorstop while playing Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go Dakota Schwartz injury

Or, how about Dakota Schwartz, a 27-year-old technology worker who sprained his ankle at a public park trying to capture a particular Pokémon.

“I knew there was a Cubone over by the tennis courts,” he said. “I looked down at my phone at the wrong time.”

Missouri police department issued a public advisory to warn the public that tech-literate criminals are taking advantage of Lure Modules to get people out of their house (as always, emphasis mine):

This morning at approximately 2 am we responded to the report of an Armed Robbery near the intersection of Highway K and Feise Road. We were able to locate four suspects occupying a black BMW a short time later and recover a handgun. These suspects are suspected of multiple Armed Robberies both in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties. It is believed these suspects targeted their victims through the Pokemon Go smart phone application.

According to USA Today, the four teen suspects are behind a dozen robberies.

“Many of you have asked how the app was used to rob victims, the way we believe it was used is you can add a beacon to a pokestop to lure more players,” the police department said in a statement on Facebook. “Apparently, they were using the app’s Lure Module at a PokéStop to draw in unsuspecting players and rob them at gunpoint.

Some people even complain about “sore legs”.

Joy of Tech put together this awesome comic dealing with Pokémon GO’s physicality.

Pokemon Go comic Hoy of Tech

Another player was supposedly shot at while hunting for Pokémon in the woods.

Many people, myself included, believe this video is a staged prank.

Police are even warning against—wait for it—playing Pokemon Go while driving.

“We are so grateful to our fans for turning this game into such a trend,” said a spokeswoman at the headquarters of The Pokémon Company in Tokyo. “We hope everyone will follow guidelines to play it safely and observe good manners.”

Pokémon GO concept

The game takes advantage of an iPhone’s camera, sensors and location information to create an augmented reality experience. After creating and customizing your avatar, the game encourages players to venture into the real world to find and capture other Pokémon, including Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, Pikachu and other characters.

Pokemong Go teaser 001

The device vibrates when there’s a Pokémon nearby.

Nintendo is even selling a standalone Bluetooth wearable device for the game which pings your wrist when the player approaches a nearby Pokémon. Any collected creatures can be trained, traded or used to defend nearby Gyms from other players. Gyms are real-word locations and landmarks where battles take place.

Pokémon GO availability and pricing

Pokémon GO is available at no charge on the US App Store.

The augmented-reality game is currently available on the iOS App Store in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. According to The Wall Street Journal, it’ll be launching in Japan, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe and world “within a few days”.

Upcoming new features include trading characters and more ways to play with Pokéstops and Gyms, Pokémon developer Niantic told TechInsider.

Have you seen anyone playing Pokémon GO in public yet?

By the way, stay safe out there.