By Zachary Bialick, Associate Attorney
In retrospect, it’s likely that the past several weeks will ultimately be remembered as the ‘Summer of Pokémon Go’. The game is played using a smartphone and was released for the Android and Apple mobile platforms on July 5, 2016. It has been a smash hit to put it mildly, amassing over 100 million downloads in just its first month of existence. While many view it as a harmless time-passer that can give children (or adults) an excuse to get outside, it can also put its players in danger if caution is not exercised.
The potential concern is that to successfully play the game, it requires players to hit the pavement and explore places (in the real world) that may be unfamiliar or even dangerous, all the while in a distracted state of gaming.
Essentially, the game calls for players to catch creatures known as Pokémon on their phone screens. The creatures are virtually ‘placed’ in real world locations such as restaurants, baseball fields, parks, and even your backyard. By utilizing the GPS and camera found on most modern smartphones, players can find and capture the creatures by physically traveling to real world locations.
Unsafe neighborhoods: The creatures are placed into a variety of real world locations, including some not-so-safe locations, one example being bad neighborhoods. While the game developers do not do this intentionally (in fact, the creatures are placed randomly), your child or loved one may be enticed to wander into a perilous situation in order to catch one of these creatures. In fact, reporters in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California noted that Pokémon have been appearing uncomfortably close to more than a dozen sex offenders’ residences. In fairness, this is the doing of the game, not the sex offenders, but it’s troubling nonetheless.
Criminal encounters: If it’s bad enough that Pokemon are being placed into unsafe areas (albeit unintentionally), there’s also criminals out there that are actively using the game to harm people. For example, a key feature of the game is the beacon feature. Players can set off a beacon at a certain location, which then encourages other players to show up at that location, so they can battle each other’s creatures and collaborate. However, criminals with Pokemon Go accounts have been using the beacon to commit crime. In O’Fallon, Missouri, for example, a group of armed men used the beacon to lure unwitting Pokemon Go players to a secluded location so that they could rob them.
Trespassing: Some say that the game also encourages trespassing, in which your child could partake. Right here in Michigan, a St. Clair Shores couple, Scott Dodich and Jayme Gotts-Dodich, filed a federal lawsuit against the makers of the game for “creating a nuisance and profiting from players trespassing on their property.” The couple live adjacent to Wahby Park, which has been designated by the game as a “Pokestop”– a place where players can meet up and purchase in-game objects. The problem has been that nearby players have been all-to-willing to trespass onto the couple’s property to catch the Pokémon that have appeared there. “When we ask these unwanted guests to leave, we are threatened, they don’t listen, give attitude, and leave when they want,” the couple said. “This goes on all night.” While the Dodich’s have peacefully taken action against the trespassers, it remains to be seen if more homeowners will follow their example. It’s likely that some, such as gun owners, may take more forceful measures against Pokemon Go players who unlawfully enter their property.
(For your own purposes, it would be a good idea to not let Pokémon Go players venture onto your property; if they get injured (say they trip on a rock, or fall into your pool), you may be held liable).
Environmental dangers: Lastly, there’s some environmental dangers. Because the mobile phone screen is such a critical component of the game, people to tend look at the screen rather than where they’re walking. In the one of the more embarrassing examples, two men in California, both in their early 20s, fell off a cliff while pursuing a Pokemon. Both ended up suffering moderate injuries, but it highlighted the danger of players paying more attention to their screen than their physical surroundings. The last thing we would want would be for your child or loved one to walk in front of a moving car or fall down a ravine while trying to catch one of these digital creatures.
Go with your child: If your child wants to go to a certain location to catch a rare Pokemon or to battle other players, then go with him or her. Your child can enjoy the adventure and still be safe.
Talk to them about the dangers: Let your child know to pay attention to his or her surroundings. Tell them not to go near a stranger’s home or a Pokemon meetup spot. If they want to go to those locations, then go with a trusted adult. Tell them never to trespass onto private property. Make sure they know not to run and look at their screen, and to pay attention to their surroundings.
To conclude, the game is not all bad. Unlike most video games, it gets people out of the house and physically moving. It connects people, and creates a sense of adventure.
However, because it encourages people to go out into the real world, the dangers of the real world are ever present. If you have young children, or even grandchildren, you need to be aware of these dangers.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Zachary Bialick is an Associate Attorney at Shea Aiello and practices estate planning and business planning.
The information in this blog post is based on general legal and tax rules and is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal or tax advice. Readers should consult their own legal and tax advisors as to their specific legal or tax situation as it may require more complex analysis, or the consideration of other information.