Staying Safe While Playing Pokémon Go

by Rosen & Ohr, P.A. | Personal Injury

Smartphone app Pokémon Go took the world by storm when it was released early last month. The app, an “augmented reality” game based on the Pokémon characters and videogame popular in the 90s, has been downloaded over 100 million times since its release, an unprecedented amount, was downloaded more times in its first week than any other app, and already has higher usage than Facebook or Twitter.

Although using the app can be fun and provide opportunities to get outside and get moving, there are some risks involved. If you or someone in your household spends a lot of time playing Pokémon Go, make sure you are safe while doing so, so you prevent harm to yourself and others.

What is it?

If you have not yet jumped on the Pokémon bandwagon, here’s a crash course. Pokémon Go is called an “augmented reality” game because it uses your phone’s camera and GPS to superimpose Pokémon (or “pocket monsters”) on top of the camera’s image, making it look like the Pokémon is there on the street with you. When you spot a Pokémon on your screen, you can capture it by throwing a virtual PokeBall at it. PokeBalls can be collected at designated locations, called PokeStops. There are also locations designated as Gyms, where you can fight Pokémon, once you have reached a certain level in the game. The purpose of the game is to collect all 151 Pokémon. The app is free but there are in-app purchases available to help you progress to other levels faster. Pokémon Go developer Ninantic is making an estimated $1.6 million per day off in-app purchases from iPhone users alone.

Positive Benefits

Since catching Pokémon going to actual physical locations in your city, many people are finding that there are benefits beyond their virtual Pokémon collections.  Pokémon Go is giving millions of people a reason to get outside and exercise, and the benefits of fresh air and exercise are undeniable. Many people, including mental health experts, are crediting Pokémon Go with helping them deal with anxiety and depression (though it is not a substitute for treatment). People who would otherwise be indoors and sitting are getting out, logging miles and interacting with others playing the game as well, and that is a huge benefit. However, there are some pitfalls to watch out for.

Potential Dangers

The nature of the game makes it easy to run into trouble. If you are looking down at your screen, engrossed in a Pokémon sighting and subsequent capture, you won’t be paying as much attention to what is going on around you. That means that trips and falls will be more common for those playing, as well as potential traffic accidents if you wander out into the road without looking where you are going. Not to mention people who are playing while driving. NBC reports that 2 men playing Pokémon Go fell off a 90-foot cliff in the San Diego area recently and were hospitalized for their injuries.

Some PokeStops are in sketchy locations, and some are in sensitive locations or private property where the presence of a bunch of people playing an augmented reality game is undesired. There have been documented incidents already of Pokémon Go players being lured to a certain location and robbed at gunpoint, and according to The Guardian, a Canadian woman was recently arrested for firing a pellet gun at Pokémon players playing at a Pokémon Gym.

The weather may also pose a danger if you don’t prepare for it. Staying out for hours in the elements may put you at risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or conversely, hypothermia.

If you have kids at home who play Pokémon Go, the temptation to wander out and collect Pokémon without letting you know where they are may great. They may also rack up a substantial bill making in-app purchases if you have not put tight restrictions in place. You may need to lay ground rules for kids’ Pokémon Go usage to make sure they stay safe and don’t run up a huge Pokémon bill.

How to Stay Safe While Playing

Whether you, your child or someone in your household is the one playing, plan ahead for your safety and/or discuss with your family members the precautions they should take to stay safe and avoid injury.

  • Always pay attention to your surroundings. If you are too focused on the game, you may fall, run into something, get hit by a car, or walk straight into a bad situation—things that can be avoided if you are paying attention to your surroundings.
  • Come prepared. If you know you’re going to be out for a while, pack accordingly. Just as you would if you were going hiking for a few hours, bring a hat, water, and snacks, and wear sunscreen. If you rely on your phone to get where you are going, make sure you stop playing before your phone runs out of battery.
  • Never play while driving. According to statistics from the Department of Transportation, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 injured in car accidents in 2014 as a result of distracted driving. Driving while playing a game is a potentially greater distraction than talking on the phone or texting. Don’t drive while playing, don’t ride with someone who is playing while they drive, and make sure your child doesn’t either.
  • Avoid places where you may be unwelcome. Some Pokémon players have wandered into places where they are not welcome or where their presence creates a disturbance. Avoid looking for Pokémon inside hospitals, clinics, police stations, and especially on private property. You may be putting your health and life at risk by trespassing on private property.
  • Restrict in-app purchases if anyone but you uses your phone. If your child is using, make sure they don’t have access to in-app purposes unless you are controlling the purchases.

Keep these tips in mind to make sure your experience is fun but safe, respectful, and law-abiding. And if you do happen to be involved in a Pokémon-related accident, contact a personal injury attorney at Rosen & Ohr, P.A. today for a free consultation.