"Pokémon GO," the augmented reality mobile game from Nintendo, Niantic, and the makers of Google Earth that turns real-world landmarks into monster-catching hotspots, has caught the attention of just about everyone, even reportedly surpassing Twitter and Tinder in daily active users since being launched last week. It even showed up in a literal battleground.
Pokémon GO gets people outside and walking around and interacting with strangers in interesting ways. But there have already been some drawbacks to the game. Players have reported getting hurt while distracted by the app, and reports quickly spread over the weekend that armed robbers were using the app to camp out near Pokéstops and gyms to get easy access to potential victims.
Pokemon Go injury. I caught an Ow. Professor Hot Dad should come and make it all better wink wonk ;) pic.twitter.com/YUhSnt8AfV
— Hobie (@HobieOtt) July 8, 2016
There's also the chance of emotional trauma, as evidenced by the Wyoming teen who stumbled across a dead body while using the app.
So, what should you know to stay safe while playing Pokémon GO?
When you open Pokémon GO on your mobile device, you get a warning message, imploring you to pay attention to your surroundings. That's no mistake—Pokémon GO is pretty much the epitome of distracted walking, which research has proven is dangerous for your health. (In 2012, the University of Maryland published a study saying that pedestrian deaths involving victims wearing headphones had tripled since 2004.)
The New York City Mayor's office released a statement today, warning Pokémon GO players to stay "aware of their surroundings, alert to danger, and following all laws" while playing the game.
That means crossing the street at crosswalks and intersections, not sprinting across the highway when you see a Jigglypuff. It also means not trespassing on private property, looking both ways before you cross the street, and avoiding places that might be dangerous for catching Pokémon, like on the train tracks or in dark alleys.
Furthermore, according to Forbes, you can cut out distractions by allowing the app to run in the background while you walk. If you feel a buzz in your pocket and it's not a text, email, or other app sending you a push notification, there's a Pokémon nearby. Stop, take out your phone, and begin your search then.
To be safer while playing at night, you can turn up your screen brightness, which will drain your battery, but will also make you more visible on dark streets. You can also wear a reflective bike vest or a headlamp to alert drivers to your presence.
Even though crime rates have plummeted in recent decades, walking alone at night—especially while distracted, with an expensive smartphone in your hand—is probably a bad idea. When you're playing Pokémon GO, especially at night and in less-populated areas, consider taking a friend with you. For extra safety, you could even take turns playing and acting as guides or spotters. If you're playing with a kid, let them take the phone while you keep watch.
If you play Pokémon GO for an hour or two, you could end up walking more than you bargained for. (A two-hour session, walking at an average of 3 miles per hour, would net you six miles.) If that's more than you're used to walking, make sure you stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and take opportunities to sit down and rest. (Seriously!) You'll need to walk back home eventually, and sore legs aren't going to help that at all.
This one is obvious. You already don't text and drive, so why would you want to do something even more distracting while operating a car? Washington state's Department of Transportation has already released an official warning about Pokémon-catching while driving, and more states could follow suit. Plus, the game is specifically designed for you to discover new Pokémon and Pokéstops on foot—not while speeding through a neighborhood.
Playing Pokémon GO carries the risk of wandering into unfamiliar territory, and not being able to get back home. Usually, finding directions is no problem—just shut down the game and open a maps app. But Pokémon GO is a notorious battery hog. So you might want to carry an extra battery pack, in case your phone dies while you're playing.
"My nephew got lost in the mountains at midnight looking for a zubat or some shit," David Wilson, a New York coffee shop manager, told me about his experience with the game over the weekend at a family reunion in South Carolina. "My brother-in-law and I had to search for him for about an hour. He's 10."
Wilson's story is illustrative of one of the most dangerous things about Pokémon GO. Players (many of them children) are going to be wandering around their towns and cities, possibly traveling to less-than-safe areas.
If your kid is going out looking for Pokémon far from home, you might want to make sure they're chaperoned. And no matter what, you'll want to talk with your kid about maintaining safety even while pursuing Charizards.
There are reportedly ways to hack the game in order to play it without moving. Sure, that's kind of beside the point, but if you really want to stay safe and avoid dangerous interactions, just put your feet up at home and use a spoofing hack to fake your location. (Or, if you don't want to cheat, just spend a few dollars on incense or lures, both items in the game that will bring Pokémon to you.)
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org