Pokémon Go leads players to explore their surroundings, but at a risk

Pokemon Go is a wildly popular new smartphone game that gets players out exploring their neighborhoods, but it can also put them in dangerous situations if they don't look up from their phone.

The objective of the game is the same as every other Pokemon game: catch the creatures you encounter, battle against your friends and explore different environments to find new Pokemon.

But while other Pokemon games can be done in the comfort of one's home, Pokemon Go makes its users get up and explore the real world with smartphone in hand.

The game uses augmented reality to bring Pokemon - cute, virtual creatures - into the real world through a smartphones' camera. When a player encounters a Pokemon, the game opens up the phone's camera and places the digital creature on the screen, superimposing it into reality.

From there, players can catch the Pokemon by throwing a Pokeball at it by swiping the screen. Players then take their Pokemon to battle at virtual gyms, usually located at significant places in a city, and interact with other players and the Pokemons they have captured.

The newest game in the Nintendo franchise, which dates back to the 1990s, has gained widespread popularity, topping app download charts in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It has been installed on 5 per cent of all Android smartphones in the US since it became available less than a week ago.

It's also driven up Nintendo stock. Shares in the Japanese company rose by 37 per cent Monday on the NASDAQ.

But as Pokemon Go gains popularity, safety concerns are also on the rise. Although the game warns users to "stay aware of their surroundings," many are concerned that people will get into accidents and dangerous situations because they are not looking up from their phones.

#DontPokemonGoAndDrive trended on Twitter over the weekend, and while no major accidents have occurred because of the game, many are worried that players lack a real-life awareness while driving or walking.

"I think people just need to look up from their phones sometimes and they'll be fine," said Melody Kim, who walked over 10 kilometres while playing the game over the weekend. "But playing when you're driving or biking at all is just going to get you killed."

Security also has become a problem for users who get too wrapped up in the game.

"We have had some people playing the game behind the [police department], in the dark, popping out of bushes, etc.,” the police department in Duvall, Washington, posted on its Facebook page Sunday. "This is high on our list of things that are not cool right now."

Other players have reported difficulties catching Pokemon in high-profile areas.

"We saw that there was a rare (Pokemon) near the lawn of the White House but when we tried to get closer, a guard saw us and just shook his head," said Christian Arthur, a tourist in Washington. "Looks like we can't catch them all."

Pokemon Go also apparently appeals to the criminal mind. On Sunday, four suspects were arrested by police in O'Fallon, Missouri, after they used the app to bait users to their locations by setting up "lure modules," which attract both Pokemon and players.

While safety concerns remain an issue, players have reported the game motivating them to get outside and move.

"Honestly, Pokemon Go is probably going to help a lot with people who have depression," wrote Tumblr user The Awesome Adventurer. "Because rather than laying in bed all day we are getting up and going outside and actually enjoying ourselves."

Some have also been using the game to meet new people. Maria Sarasin, 20, said she met people playing Pokemon Go at a park in Washington, and that they already made plans to meet and play again.

Sarasin said she usually has trouble making new friends, but Pokemon Go has given her a way to meet people without forcing herself into uncomfortable situations.

"I think this is the first time for a lot of people where they're able to get out and meet new people and talk about stuff that's nerdy in a public space," Sarasin said. "So no one's used to making friends so easily and everyone's really excited. It's a cool experience."

Last update: Tue, 12/07/2016 - 11:16
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