Pokémon Go doesn’t make you walk into traffic. Stupidity does

Cover by McDuck

photo by Darrol Hofmeister

Pokémon Go has been fingered as the cause of a growing blotter list of incidents that includes two California men falling off a cliff and a Quebec driver backing into a police cruiser.

The accidents and misdemeanours are downplayed by Saskatchewan players, who say you can’t blame the mobile augmented reality game for human dumbassery.

“It’s totally healthy as long as you have a cautious mind,” said Thatcher Rose, a Pokémon player who ran across Regina’s Albert street (after looking both ways) to nab a snivelling purple Rattata squatting on the pavement.

Rose and companion Tanner MacDonald agree: Pokémon Go doesn’t make you walk into traffic; stupidity does. The pair are backpacking across Canada, catching the pocket monsters as they go, and they haven’t had any game-related close calls — which they attribute less to luck and more to being not morons.

Is Pokemon Go a healthy way to get gamers out of their moms’ basements for the first time in a decade? Or is it turning players into brainless zombies (which would mean the zombie apocalypse is 100 per cent less cool than we hoped it would be)?

Pokémon Primer

Pokémon Go is a free-to-download mobile game that sends players out into the real world to nab digital monsters — collectively called Pokémon — which appear through a phone’s camera lens. Supplies for these human-versus-pixel battles are found at set locations — called Pokéstops — and those who have hit level five can also join a team and battle for control over Pokémon gyms.

In short: the game lays down an invisible, digital treasure-hunting battleground.

In the United States, more than 21 million players were active by July 12, just one week after the app became available in that country. Canadian Pokémon hunters got into the game early with a simple hack, and when it was officially released in Canada on July 17, so many more joined that the app’s servers overloaded within the hour.

Saskatchewan is already peppered with players, creating a scene a little reminiscent of The Night of the Living Dead as they trudge with their eyes fixed on their screens.

Pokémon Go Brainless

The potential for zombification is, apparently, not a surprise to the game’s maker, Niantic.

“Remember to be alert at all times, stay aware of your surroundings” reads an automatic warning that pops up each time a player opens the app.

“I would like it if people didn’t need that warning,” quips Chris Larsen, a tech-savvy early adopter in Regina. He’s been playing Pokémon Go since the game’s July 6 Australia release.

He shakes his head at news reports — a Pokemon-hunter backed into a police cruiser in Quebec; an Auburn, New York man crashed his car into a tree while playing; and a 15-year-old player in Tarentum, Pennsylvania was hospitalized after trying to cross a busy highway in 5 p.m. traffic.

“Most of the people that I’ve encountered are on the sidewalks, out of traffic, not getting hit by cars,” he says.

Luke Siman agrees. He downloaded the game July 18 and was catching Pokemon on the way to work. “Just use your head. Don’t be stupid,” he advises presumably stupid people.

“Generally, if you’re smart enough to watch where you’re going while you’re texting on your phone, you can play this game without getting hurt,” said Larsen.

Some people are failing that unbelievably simple test. In fact, police in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg have sent out warnings with simple instructions: no playing while driving, no falling prey to lure-and-rob schemes, and no walking out into traffic.

To be clear: adults are being told by police specifically not to step in front of moving cars. As if adults need to hear from the authorities that, during gameplay, the rules of physics still apply and standard human-versus-vehicle consequences remain in effect.

MacDonald figures it’s obvious that Niantic isn’t at fault here — a lack of common sense is. Rose and MacDonald do feel, however, that playing is cool wherever you are, as long as you play it cool.

Because the monsters appear randomly, they can be found on sidewalks, in grocery stores and in bedrooms all over the province. They’re not only in potentially dangerous places (Montreal’s transport agency has released a photo of a monster scary-close to the tracks with a train approaching); they’re appearing in some questionable places.

There have been reports and complaints about Pokémon monsters found on private property, in police yards and even in graveyards.

Siman said one was in his backyard, just outside Regina.

“People could just walk in to where I live and try to catch it. It’s not so private,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve really worked out the bugs for privacy issues and things like that.”

Pokémon Go Politely

If backyards and cemeteries don’t raise your eyebrows, the digital distractions have repeatedly appeared at Auschwitz, the former concentration camp. Twitter appears to confirm that people are whipping out their phones to play while on the sombre grounds — you can easily find photos online of the chilling and real-life evil Arbeit Macht Frei sign with a smiling, poison gas-filled Koffing cartoon underneath.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has banned people from playing Pokémon Go during visits to the former Nazi death camp, tweeting (to Niantic) that gameplay on the site is “disrespectful to the memory of the victims!”

To recap: police are telling people that stepping into moving traffic is a no-no and the Auschwitz museum is telling people that playing an integrated reality video game while touring a memorial at the site of a former death camp is disrespectful.

Pokémon Go To Work

Some businesses, on the other hand, are welcoming Pokémon players. Articles like How to Use Pokémon Go for Marketing are popping up and the lexicon now includes the unbelievably fucking stupid term Pokéconomy.

Reports of bars and coffee shops buying Pokémon Go lures (an in-app purchase that allows the player to create a temporary monster hotspot) to bring business in litter the Internet and entrepreneur water-cooler chats.

Pokémon Go Outside

But you can’t visit those bars and coffee shops if you don’t get off your ass and leave the basement. Players say this is the real benefit of the game: parents are playing with their kids and people are getting fit racking up the kilometres.

Larsen reports more than 27 kilometres of walking in just a week and a half during gameplay, and says his seven-year-old can’t wait for him to get home from work so they can go outside and catch monsters together.

Like a health craze, though, Larsen thinks it may not last. New players won’t be able to take down the early adopters and diehards in the gyms, while frequent crashes and the game’s battery-sucking appetite make it anyone’s guess if the juggernaut app will last.

“With gameplay itself, it just might not have the staying power,” said Larsen.

A second later, he nabbed another digital critter on the floor right beside him.

McDuck is an occasional Prairie Dog contributor on a top-secret mission who’d probably have to kill us all if we knew what it was.