If you’ve been seeing children, teenagers and – truly – people of any age walking around with their faces glued to their phones recently, they could be sending a text message – but more likely they are playing Pokemon GO.
The free game, which involves walking around town to catch Pokemon in an augmented reality setting, has more than 15 million downloads and is growing every day. It is built around the wildly successful Pokemon video game franchise, which pits people against each other in their quest to catch the most Pokemon – tiny animal-like creatures with varying strength and rarity.
In Pokemon GO, players are asked to walk around their towns rather than remain seated while playing. In fact, one who remains stationary while playing will not have much of a chance at catching Pokemon at all. The game not only encourages moving – it actually encourages walking. Pokemon do not appear when the player is moving above a certain speed, and eggs collected in the game hatch into Pokemon based on steps – not GPS distance.
The game not only encourages, but demands looking at the places players may have been a hundred times before in an entirely new light. Local landmarks have randomly been assigned as”Pokestops” and gyms, where players must gather to restock on items and battle other players. Most Pokestops are actually historic cemeteries, monuments, memorials and parks. In the game, the history of the landmark is displayed prominently at the top of the screen, and players can expand further for even more information.
Landmarks chosen as Pokestops locally include The Three Towers, the tree at the Mew’s, the Carter Jackson Monument, the Indian Lake Shores totems, the Hannah Robinson Observation Tower (The Tower) and the Volunteer Firefighters Memorial in South Kingstown.
Some of the Pokestops are not as obvious. While walking the O’Neill Bike Path, players are told by the game to look around for a giant ceramic beehive sculpture. Alas, it is just past the artist mural (also a Pokestop).
While the game has the positive traits of encouraging exploration, physical activity (at least in its lightest form) and social mingling, those same traits can be construed negatively, especially from a public safety standpoint.
Concurrent with Pokemon’s recent resurgence, and the absolving nature of the game, police departments across the country are taking steps to make sure trainers are playing safely while on the go. The Standard Times spoke with both the South Kingstown and Narragansett police departments and unsurprisingly, they shared a similar sentiment when advising players of the dangers of Pokemon GO.
“Research has proven that people are not nearly as good at multitasking as they think they are,” wrote Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan in an email Wednesday afternoon. “That is why distracted driving is such a great public safety concern. In fact, I’m concerned with anyone playing this game when they should be giving their full attention to something else.”
South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia Jr., agreed.
“I’m not too familiar with the game, but I am familiar with distracted driving,” he said. “I’ll tell you this, it all comes down to common sense. If people know they are in a situation where they shouldn’t be playing, then they shouldn’t play.” Pokemon GO has taken steps to ensure that trainers aren’t chucking Pokeballs while behind the wheel, as the game seems to not produce any wild Pokemon if the player is travelling above 20 miles per hour. Chief Corrigan elaborated on the issue and proposed a solution for all players, whether or walking or driving.
“I understand that people want to enjoy this popular game and we all could use a distraction from time to time from all of the serious problems facing our society,” he said. “Therefore, I recommend using a buddy system where one person can focus on the game while their friend watches out for them. Then take turns so the friend can enjoy too. A little planning and common sense goes a long way to staying safe.”
Corrigan also provided a list of safety tips to follow while catching ‘em all or taking down a rival gym leader. The suggestions include: tell friends or family where you are going if it’s a place you’ve never been, if stopped by police – tell them you are playing Pokemon GO and finally, do not trespass.
“People may call the police if you enter private property while hunting for Pokemon or other virtual characters,” the chief said.
Also highlighted in Corrigan’s safety list were a couple tips for parents, including limiting places where kids can go and warning about talking with strangers.