Pokemon Go and get a life: why this new craze is dangerous

Pokemon go

Pokemon Go – the latest sensation to sweep pop culture and the digital game realm – has created a vast new global economy almost overnight.

After being released in the US, Australia and New Zealand on July 6, it was downloaded to mobile devices more than 7.5 million times and crashed servers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane due to its popularity. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pokemon Go increased the market value of Nintendo by US$9 billion in just two days. 

The game involves walking around and “catching” Pokemon - which, it’s important to understand at this point, don’t actually exist - by going to locations they’re not really at. Grown-ups � not just kids – are doing this in huge numbers; apparently, one of the Pokemon is called “Squirtle”, which sounds more like a sex toy than some cuddly, digital cutie-pie. 

Players are so excited about this game, and collecting the “candies” and “stardust it rewards them with, that they will soon be seen in large numbers walking along, zombie-like, staring at their phones, which is the only way they can see their deeply desired Pokemon, overlaid on the real world. Indeed, unless you’re a hacking genius or so lazy that you attach your phone to a drone, you have to get out and walk around to succeed at this augmented-reality game. 

On one hand, it’s a game that actually encourages pale-skinned, couch-crouchers – who traditionally love this sort of thing – to get outside and explore the real world. So, on the face of it, the developers of this gormless game for people fascinated with emoticons on little digital legs seem to be doing a good thing by encouraging exercise. 

Frankly, though, this is a terrible idea because it means the sort of people who are least suited to interacting with roads, traffic lights, vehicles and other human beings are being forced to do so; often for the first time in years.

Yes, there is a Darwinian argument that suggests it should be legal to run these smartphone zombies down and throw their beeping devices into the nearest pit of Hell, but the fact is that running over human beings - even stupid ones – is highly illegal, damaging to your vehicle, and ridiculously traumatic for everyone involved. 

Speaking of Darwin, (and on a somewhat more serious note) our friends in the top end have had a bit of trouble with the game. Pokemon Go “hides” its little digital prizes in popular public places like, for example, the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, the game’s algorithm has included – seriously– the Darwin Police Station as a place to hunt for Pokemon. 

This has caused the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services to waste its valuable, crocodile-herding time putting up a Facebook post to ask players not to hunt for Pikachu, Squirtle and friends inside the police station, and pointing out that they only had to stand near the building to collect the stupid bloody (non-existent) things. 

Recognising the obvious road dangers as well, the post from the NT coppers concluded by warning people about the risks of extreme Pokemon Go stupidity: “It's also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn't going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch 'em all!” 

The danger of pedestrians – known in some quarters as ‘smombies’ – stumbling out onto the road in front of your car while staring at Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or a million other vital things on their phones has been with us for a while now, of course, but the idea of creating a game that forces you to look through the relatively tiny screen of your phone at the world as you move through it will surely lead to mayhem, particularly if its early sales are anything to go by - it took just 24 hours to become the most downloaded app on Apple’s US App Store. 

The first Pokemon Go road death is surely not far away, but Nintendo is at least moving to publicly mark its players for the rest of us to spot them with ease, with the imminent launch of Pokemon Go Plus, a Bluetooth device you can wear on your wrist (yours for just $34.99) that will detect Pokemon and allow a more “heads-up” experience. 

The world, I’m afraid, truly has gone mad. I want my Commodore 64 back.

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!