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Pokemon Go Is Dangerous and Stupid

Richard Gama July 18, 2016

Not my most creative blog title, I'll admit. The hottest and latest game among teens and pre-teens is called Pokemon Go, which is an augmented reality game which encourages players to ‘catch’ game characters that appear in the real world. I know, weird. But apparently, kids are getting hurt because they are so engrossed by this game and not paying attention to the non-virtual world (aka "the real world") around them.

For example, Autumn Deiseroth, a 15 year old teen outside of Pittsburgh, was recently playing Pokemon Go when she walked into a busy street without looking because that’s where the game was telling her to go. Not surprisingly, she got hit by a car and sustained some minor injuries. Both Autumn and her mom blame Pokemon Go for the crash because Pokemon Go forced her to cross the highway.

In another incident, two teens in a Palm Coast, Florida neighborhood were driving around at 1:30 in the morning playing Pokemon Go when they were shot at because they were mistaken for burglars by a homeowner. In the middle of the night, the homeowner was awakened by loud noises outside his house and when he went to his window, he saw a car stopped outside his home. As he ran outside with a gun, he heard one of the teens say “Did you get anything?” Assuming they were talking about stealing something, the homeowner stepped in front of their car and told them not to move so he could call the cops. That’s when they stepped on the gas, almost hitting the homeowner, and prompting the homeowner to fire at them. The teens were not hit or injured.

As a result of the Florida incident, the local Sheriff’s Office thought it necessary to post several tips for Pokemon Go players and their parents, such as “Do not trespass” and “Watch where you are going.”

And apparently this game can be equally addictive to adults. There are numerous reports of what I assume are otherwise rational and intelligent adults driving into trees, ponds, and other cars because they were playing Pokemon Go while driving.

Is Pokemon to Blame?

(Because as an attorney I need someone to blame.)

Legally, Pokemon Go is about as much to blame as cell phones in general. Cell phones are inherently distracting too, but when someone gets into an accident because they were texting, you don’t blame the cell phone.

Although Pokemon is not legally obligated to protect people from their own stupidity, would it have been that hard to not have kids crossing busy highways in order to 'capture' characters? Of course they could have thought of that. Or they could have included some kind of educational tutorial about the real world dangers in the game that players have to watch before they can play it. Not because they have to, but because it's the responsible (and pretty easy) thing to do.

To be over-simplistic, personal injury laws are typically predicated on what is reasonable behavior under the circumstances. So as between the girl walking out into traffic, the driver that hit her, and Pokemon, the girl walking out into traffic is probably the least reasonable party and therefore most at fault. As between the kids casing the neighborhood, the homeowner with a shotgun, and Pokemon, again the kids casing a neighborhood at 1:30 in the morning are probably the least reasonable of the bunch...mostly because it's Florida we're talking about. In Florida it’s considered reasonable to shoot and kill someone who you reasonably believe is threatening you with bodily harm or death (commonly referred to as the "stand your ground" law). Fortunately the incident in Florida did not result in any bodily harm or deaths, but if it had, my guess would be that the homeowner would have been exonerated, assuming he would have been charged in the first place.

The Danger of Augmented Reality Is that It's Somewhere in Between the Virtual and Real World

Virtual reality is clearly virtual. The real world is clearly real. But with augmented reality like Pokemon Go, the danger is that a user might get caught up in the virtual aspect and forget they are actually still in the real world...which obviously comes with real world consequences. This problem is particularly illustrated in the kid-being-led-into-traffic scenario. The Pokemon character was virtual; the traffic was real.

I don't see augmented reality going away anytime soon, in fact it might have some very exciting and useful applications. I just hope that future augmented reality platforms are done responsibly and with some effort put into educating users about potential real world dangers and safety concerns.