04 Aug Pokémon Go: The Real Life Perils of Hunting Virtual Monsters
Pokémon Go is a cultural phenomenon. On street corners, in parks, along the Galloping Goose and even on the lawn of the BC Legislature, young and old alike are hurling virtual PokéBalls at Drowzees, Dratinis, and Magikarp in an epic quest to catch ‘em all.
An “augmented reality” game for smartphones, Pokémon Go uses a map of the real world as its game environment. It uses GPS so that the player’s real-world movements correspond with their location in the game. The game notifies users when Pokémon are nearby. Real world sites serve as PokéStops where visiting players can pick up virtual goodies and re-up on PokéBalls, or as gyms where players can pit their favourite Pokémon against each other in duels. By traveling in the real world, players can move their character to these sites or to nab different Pokémon species. The player’s smartphone makes the Pokémon appear as if they are part of the real world, in real time and players “catch” them by “throwing” Pokéballs at them via the phone’s touchscreen.
Beyond the sheer popularity of Pokémon, it is likely the unique combination of virtual reality and the physical world which explains why Pokémon Go has been able to capture the attention of so many people. However, it is that same combination which some people claim is responsible for a number of recent accidents resulting in injury. In other words, the Pokémon Go app isn’t the only thing that’s crashing.
Here are some examples of recent accidents from around the world involving Pokémon Go players::
- A Quebec City man drove his vehicle into a police cruiser while both he and his passenger played Pokémon Go (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/pokemon-go-quebec-city-collision-1.3677891);
- A person playing Pokémon Go while driving crashes into a parked police cruiser in Maryland (http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/07/watch_as_motorist_playing_poke.html);
- In Japan, a man drove into a line of vehicles and a woman collided with a parked vehicle in separate incidents. Both drivers were playing the game while driving, as was a cyclist who rode into another bicycle and a woman who sustained a head injury when her bicycle struck a staircase (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/25/national/pokemon-go-craze-leads-spate-accidents-traffic-offenses-across-japan/#.V6EPx-grKp0);
- In separate incidents, two men crashed into trees after playing Pokémon Go while driving. The incidents occurred four hours apart in Wisconsin. Each driver was cited for driving under the influence of alcohol (http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/18/wisconsin-pokemon-go-car-crash-dwi/);
- An Australian woman was struck and killed by a hit and run driver while playing Pokémon Go at night in Melbourne (http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/crime/woman-dies-in-hit-and-run-in-west-melbourne/news-story/9020de64d0e500d087b522d08e5d3e29);
- A North Carolina woman injured her shin after tripping over a cinder block while playing Pokémon Go (http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/pokemon-go-injuries-1.3672615);
- A Nevada man was arrested playing Pokémon Go while driving, and was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (http://fremonttribune.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/man-arrested-while-trying-to-catch-pokemon/article_cdf86995-9942-569d-80b5-a4dcef70b71d.html);
- A Vermont man crashed his vehicle and acknowledged that Pokémon Go played a role in the accident, though he was also impaired at the time (http://www.wmur.com/news/drunken-driver-was-playing-pokemon-go-during-crash-police-say/40868582);
- A New York man injured himself when he tried to catch an elusive Pokémon while driving his car (http://www.syracuse.com/crime/index.ssf/2016/07/pokemon_go_crash_man_warns_about_distracted_driving_after_breaking_ankle_missing.html);
- A Pennsylvania teenager was struck by a vehicle while crossing a busy street as a pedestrian, and while she had been playing Pokémon Go she was not looking at her screen at the time of the collision (http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2016/07/13/tarentum-teen-hit-by-car-while-playing-pokemon-go/);
- One man fell 50 feet and another 80-90 feet down an ocean bluff in California after trying to catch some elusive Pokémon (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/jul/13/pokemon-go-encinitas-cliff-fall/);
- An Israeli man injured himself after running into a glass door while hunting Pokémon, and a teenage girl suffered a head injury after falling off her bicycle while playing the game (http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/israeli-army-identifies-a-new-threat-pokemon-go-1.3010430).
Is Pokémon Go really to blame for all this? Probably not. While it is tempting to think that the game’s “unique combination” of attributes have created this uptick in accidents and injury, the reality is that accidents involving smartphones precede the existence of Pokémon Go by years – years during which the smartphone has become increasingly integrated into our day to day lives. A corollary of that increased integration has been increased use of smartphones by people using the roads.
The Motor Vehicle Act already requires that all drivers, including cyclists, pay “due care and attention” when driving on public roads. Drivers must also have “reasonable consideration” for other users of the road, and the law specifically prohibits the use of electronic devices while driving. In other words, it is already illegal for the driver of a vehicle or a cyclist to play Pokémon Go while on the road.
Similarly, vehicles have to yield to pedestrians in most circumstances, but pedestrians must make sure that they do not put themselves into the paths of vehicles that are so close that they cannot yield. So would-be Pokémon hunters should not amble out into traffic without checking to see if it is safe to do so, and oncoming drivers should not be keeping one eye (or both!) trained on their phone screens in the hopes of nabbing a Charmander.
Pitching PokéBalls at Pikachu may not be any more dangerous than texting or engaging in any other smartphone-related activity – all of them are very dangerous indeed if you do them while driving, cycling or using the road as a pedestrian. The law in British Columbia makes it the responsibility of individual Pokémon hunters to make sure that they do not endanger their own lives or the lives of others when using public roads. That means not playing at all while driving or cycling, and exercising considerable caution while playing as a pedestrian.
Even then, you cannot guarantee your safety when others break the law. If you have been injured in a Pokémon Go-related incident, contact Acheson Sweeney Foley Sahota right away.