Don’t get clobbered while playing Pokémon GO

It’s a hot topic in the news. Millions of smartphones have downloaded it in just two weeks. And people are spending more time on it than Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. What is it? It’s the instant hit Pokémon GO, and it has become one of the most popular games in history. While the overnight sensation is sweeping the globe, there’s an inherent danger lurking behind the scenes, and it’s not Mewtwo.

First, what is Pokémon GO? It’s a smartphone-based application that makes heavy use of augmented reality (AR), where graphical enhancements are superimposed over real-world content. In a way, AR is similar to a 3D movie. To watch a 3D movie, a viewer wears a pair of special glasses to see images that appear to jump out of the screen. In the case of AR, a user activates a special application (glasses) on a smartphone to see graphics superimposed over live images (movie screen) obtained from the phone’s camera. This allows items such as text, icons, and even cute creatures to be displayed on a smartphone screen in a setting where they don’t really exist.

Pokémon GO is a seamless blending of AR, mobile gaming, and social experience, wrapped up in an outdoor adventure. When a user activates the app, the individual is encouraged to travel outdoors and explore his or her surroundings in search of Pokémon to collect or battle. This is where it can get dangerous.

Though the app has encouraged users to be more active outdoors and sparked a significant increase in visitation to national parks, landmarks, and local businesses, it has a darker side. Some app users are so focused on the game that they forget to monitor their surroundings. There have been reports of individuals falling off a cliff, crashing a car into a tree, trespassing on private property, and walking blindly onto train tracks while playing the game. Criminals have also used the app to lure game players to a remote location in order to rob them of their real-world currency.

Though the game is not without its drawbacks, it is a vision of things to come. The popularity of this game will encourage other software developers to incorporate AR into their applications, and not just for gaming. AR can be used to enhance a museum experience by providing more information on a particular piece. It can allow a person seeking a new house, car, or shirt to superimpose different colors, accessories, and other options onto a base model to explore personalization possibilities before purchase. It can also allow advertisers to offer discounts, incentives, or accessory suggestions as shoppers scan items with their phones. Pokémon GO is definitely a sign of things to come.

So as you venture out into the world in search of Pokémon, keep one thing in mind – your safety isn’t worth incubating a new character, winning a battle, or even picking up the adorable Pikachu. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times, and if you can’t trust your ability to keep your eyes on where you’re going, use the buddy system and make sure that buddy isn’t playing the game too.

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