“When we think about what kids need to learn, it’s navigating the world with peers and working effectively in teams.”
— Eric Klopfer
Professor of education, MIT
“Anything that makes people interested in history is a good thing.”
— Donna Meyer
Delaware County Historical Society
The Pokemon Go craze, which had been burbling along for several weeks, exploded this week, becoming the top app on multiple platforms. One of many augmented reality games (though not nearly the best, to listen to the experts on such things), the game directs players to real-life places to find made-up creatures on their mobile devices.
Because we lawyers just can’t help ourselves, multiple articles, blog posts and commentaries immediately popped up about the legal ramifications of playing Pokemon Go. The Gazette even ran a story this week, quoting local law enforcement officials and the executive director of the Delaware County Historical Society.
Because Pokemon Go overlays the game on the real world, the most obvious issue is that people playing the game are directed to real life places. This has already led to several news reports about unfortunate or inappropriate locations. The National Holocaust Memorial asked to be removed from the list of locations on the obvious grounds that it was highly inappropriate to have people playing an augmented reality game at a facility dedicated to remembering the worst genocide in history.
Not all of the Pokemon Go locations are public property, though. Churches and other non-residential private locations are also included. Players need to be mindful of the fact that at these locations they may not be welcome, or at least may not be welcome at certain times. Even public places, like parks and beaches, often have hours that they are closed and players would be trespassing if they went there during those hours.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that Lakeview Cemetery had been overrun with players, though it also noted that most of them were quite respectful and that many were taking the time to learn more about the cemetery as well. That goes to the heart of what many are saying about the positive opportunities of the game. Namely, that it is requiring people to go to notable sites that they might not otherwise visit, or to pay more attention to those that they already see, but easily overlook.
There are other negative reports, though. Because the game allows players to interact, it has led to inappropriate contact between minors and adults and to players being lured into locations to be robbed or mugged. Because the game is played on a mobile device, it has led to physical and motor vehicle accidents between users. Given the recent events in Dallas and the propensity of the game to use landmarks as locations, there are at least two reports of police officers questioning or detaining people who were loitering outside police stations trying to capture a Pokemon. There have also been reports of players stumbling into crime scenes, including the discovery of a body.
Do these things mean that people should shy away from the game or that parents should not let their children play it? No, not at all. But they do mean that some care should be taken. First, remember that while you’re in alternate reality, you’re actually still in reality. Be mindful of where you are and whether you might be trespassing. Pay attention to signs about when places are open and be mindful that some private places might go so far as to post that Pokemon Go players are not welcome.
Second, be careful of your surroundings. Make sure that you’re moving safely. Don’t play and drive. Know who’s around you. (Running into real things hurts.) Third, play with other people you know. Don’t meet strangers if you’re alone. Not everyone who claims to have good intentions truly has them.
These aren’t Earth-shattering rules or ground-breaking revelations. These are tried-and-true safety tips applied to a new technology, and centuries-old legal rules wrapped around new realities. So, have fun playing but, please, do it safely.