Pokémon Go has taken over our lives, and in the process it’s also struck fear into our hearts and shaken the foundations of even our sturdiest societal institutions — at least if the media is currently to be believed.
Not only is the augmented reality mobile game leading us to dead bodies all across the world, but judging from the sheer amount of chaos, lawlessness, mayhem, fake viral news hoaxes, and law enforcement hand-wringing it’s reportedly causing, it’s priming those of us who aren’t actually dead yet to wind up as nominees for the 2016 Darwin Awards.
Is it possible that predictions of a Great Pokémon Go Calamity were right? Is all this disaster the natural result of millions of people going outside for the first time in decades? Or is there something more sinister at work?
Is the most successful mobile game in history actively trying to kill off its players one by one?
We can’t say for sure, but these true case studies of brushes with Pokémon Go–related death make a compelling argument for staying indoors. Here are the biggest, weirdest, silliest, and most dangerous threats that players face.
You could become a victim of armed robbery
Real talk though why is this Jigglypuff leading me to this unmarked white van #PokemonGO pic.twitter.com/gfaUakNO9O— Alex Hirsch (@_AlexHirsch) July 11, 2016
Reports of Pokémon-related kidnappings have been greatly exaggerated, but there is a common theme emerging from among the criminal set: Pokémon-related robbery.
Four teens in a BMW used the game’s "lure" module, which allows you to entice both cuddly digital creatures and real humans to your location, to stage up to 11 robberies in the St. Louis area before finally getting caught. Another Pokémon-related robbery was reported by police in Omaha, and in Baltimore three people were robbed at gunpoint while playing the game, though authorities aren’t sure whether they were targeted through the game or whether the perpetrators simply took advantage of their distraction and openly displayed smartphones.
Then there’s this dubious account of a nighttime park assault on a self-reported victim who claims he simply kept playing Pokémon instead of going to the hospital after getting stabbed in the shoulder.
At any rate, it seems clear that playing Pokémon may make players less aware of their surroundings, even as they’re exploring new, and perhaps dangerous, locations. Please pay attention if you’re wandering into new environs due to the game. It seems weird to have to say this so bluntly, but: Don’t become a Pokémon-related statistic, etc. etc.
You could put yourself at risk by scaring the police and other authorities
Cops around the world are kinda freaked right now because Pokémon Go players are using their locations as Pokémon game stops. You might think a police station would be a super-safe spot to hang out and look for a Bouffalant, but judging from some cops’ reactions, that is simply not the case.
"We have had some people playing the game behind the PD, in the dark, popping out of bushes, etc," the Duvall, Washington, Police Department wrote on Facebook. "DO NOT LURK AROUND THE PD AT ANY HOUR WHILE YOU ARE PLAYING POKEMON GO- it makes an unsafe situation for you and our Officers."
Meanwhile, in Australia’s Northern Territory, the Darwin Police Station reminded fans to "please be advised that you don't actually have to step inside [the station] in order to gain the pokeballs." The police station then encouraged fans to be safe. As this Kansas police department put it:
Please remember to catch ’em all, responsibly! Also, let us know where we can find Wigglytuff. #PokemonGo pic.twitter.com/HdOVZrBiPK— RCPD (@RileyCountyPD) July 11, 2016
This plea to be left alone isn’t limited to police; other government authorities like courthouses are also begging players to stay away from their spaces.
You could seriously hurt yourself
You’d think "watch where you’re going" would be a given no matter what you’re doing, but that’s proving easier said than done for obsessed Pokémon players. In San Francisco, police issued a "be aware of your surroundings" warning so basic for players ("do not run into trees") that it verged on comedy. Even the app’s creators, Nintendo and developer Niantic, have urged caution — not that it’s done much good.
"Not even 30 minutes after the release last night, I slipped and fell down a ditch," confessed Reddit user Amalthea. "Fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in my foot, 6-8 weeks for recovery."
If it’s any consolation, Amalthea, you’re not alone. Not remotely. Not in the slightest. The number of people on social media who’ve described spraining, twisting, fracturing, bruising, and breaking various body parts while playing the game is ... kind of jaw-dropping, honestly.
Tonight I got caught in an explosion/ fire, sprained my ankle hopping a fence, and cut my thumb. All in the name of Pokemon— T.N (@treenween) July 10, 2016
#ShouldHaveThoughtBetter than trying to jump a fence for a Pokémon I'm in my 30s now, and I have a twisted ankle and a scrape on my ass— Joshua Rose (@Jarose215) July 11, 2016
Also alarming is the number of people with preexisting injuries who are proudly discussing how their current setbacks won’t stop them from catching all the Pokémon.
i'm so hyped to start pokemon go tomorrow. even though i have a sprained ankle i'm still going out— Ego Boosted /Tre (@Kintoki_Douji_) July 14, 2016
Playing Pokémon go with a sprained ankle is harder than grade 12 calculus... so ... much... walking...— Nathen Mathew (@jewfro_na10) July 13, 2016
It’s called recuperation for a reason.
You could get hit by a car or a subway train, or cause a car accident
It’s become a common refrain among authorities to urge Pokémon players not to wander into traffic while pursuing Snorlaxes and Pikachus. Welcome to the human race post–Pokémon Go.
The Park Ridge, New Jersey, Police Department took to Facebook to caution against irresponsible gaming, reporting "pedestrians struck, vehicle accidents," and "groups congregating near busy roadways, while on their devices playing the game."
Meanwhile, anecdotal reports of people playing Pokémon Go while driving — yes, actually driving actual cars — keep cropping up. So far, at least one police department, this time in Alabama, has issued an advisory due to a player totaling his car while playing the game. And it seems he’s not alone.
Today I overheard a sheriff's deputy saying he pulled over a woman who was on her phone and she told him Pokémon Go was a navigation app.— Laura J. Nelson (@laura_nelson) July 11, 2016
Naturally, the police are doing everything they can to instruct people not to do this very obviously dangerous thing:
With the new #PokemonGO game, @PeoriaAzPS would like to provide some #safety tips #peoriaaz #peoriapoliceaz pic.twitter.com/TZf2HuHTtd— Peoria Police (AZ) (@PeoriaAzPS) July 11, 2016
Yeah we know Charizard is rare but don't let Officer Monello & his new partner catch you! Don't #CatchEmAll & drive! pic.twitter.com/S0ipjYTDeY— NYPD 19th Precinct (@NYPD19Pct) July 11, 2016
Meanwhile, people relying on public transit to get around have bigger, train-size problems to consider.
Hey #PokemonGO players, we know you gotta catch 'em all, but stay behind that yellow line when in the subway. pic.twitter.com/wjyfHBzalS— NYCT Subway (@NYCTSubway) July 11, 2016
You could experience racism, harassment, and social anxiety
Last week a much-shared Medium essay offered a stark reminder that the game experience can be very different for white people than it is for people of color.
In "Warning: Pokémon GO is a Death Sentence if you are a Black Man," writer Omari Akil described his experience of playing the game as five minutes of actual gameplay, one minute of "trying to look as pleasant and nonthreatening as possible as I walked past a somewhat visibly disturbed white woman," and "14 minutes being distracted from the game by thoughts of the countless Black Men who have had the police called on them because they looked 'suspicious' or wondering what a second amendment-exercising individual might do if I walked past their window a 3rd or 4th time in search of a Jigglypuff."
Akil’s instincts aren’t far off base. Last week, white Reddit user SlothofDoom reported that after striking up a convo one night with two black men who were also playing the game, all three were approached by a cop who suspected them of conducting a drug deal. "Yeah, so it turns out two twentysomething black dudes and a forty year old white guy chilling in the park at 3am looks strange," he wrote, and alleged that the cop only backed off after downloading the game himself.
Meanwhile, the streets aren’t always safe for women, either. In an essay for the Mary Sue, Pokémon fan Maddy Myers detailed how her attempts to play the game kept getting derailed because of sexual harassment:
"One guy followed me for several feet, and as he looked over my shoulder to check if I was looking for Pokémon, I tabbed over to my email and pretended to be looking at that so that he would go away. He did, but not before making my heart-rate skyrocket by following way too close behind me." This was just one of many experiences during the evening where, according to Myers, strange men approached her and either used Pokémon as a lead-in or just followed her around creepily.
Myers and Akil aren’t alone in fearing this new environment of intense interaction with strangers. On Reddit, a Pokémon Go player going by the handle Xiomaran self-identified as a 28-year-old Dutch woman who battles intense social anxiety. After encountering a group of hostile, negative teens who verbally berated her and others in the park where she was trying to play the game, she wrote, "That hour in the park has mentally drained me so much, that I can not do anything else for the rest of the day. That hour in the park was a HUGE deal for someone like me. And you put negativity on that. Now I probably won't go out there alone anymore."
It should be noted that many people have credited the game for improving their mental health and getting them to positively interact with strangers. Even in her post, Xiomaran noted, "The fact that I for a brief moment today owned the three gyms in the park and was walking outside, talking to people, has been a huge achievement for me."
But she also stressed, "Severe anxiety can sometimes mess up that process a little, no matter the circumstances." In other words, what for many of us is a fun trip outside that may involve meeting new people can be a fraught, unsafe experience for others. As Myers put it:
Pokémon Go has been reminding all of us, instantly, who does and doesn’t feel safe going outside and creating more unstructured openings for strangers to talk to them. It is reminding us that some people feel free to walk the streets without fear … but that not everyone interacts with the outside world in that way, for a variety of reasons. . . . It’s not always charming and fun to talk to strangers. It doesn’t always end well!
You could be arrested for trespassing
My coworker called out cause he's in jail. For criminal trespassing. He was chasing Pokemon.— Will Sinyard (@willsinyard) July 13, 2016
Sometimes the new phenomenon of Pokémon Go–related trespassing is a bit wondrous, as seen in Massachusetts resident Boon Sheridan’s discovery that his home is a Pokémon gym, or some players’ trolling of the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church by turning the group’s Kansas compound into a gym and starting a Jigglypuff-based ideological war.
But the sheer number of people reporting anecdotally that they’re either trespassing on private property or using "I was playing Pokémon" as an excuse, either fictional or real, to evade otherwise-justified trespassing charges has justifiably raised some alarm.
@EthanDolan I broke into a golf course last night to find some Pokemon that was pretty crazy— TAYA (@guccidolanx) July 13, 2016
A Virginia sheriff’s office posted an alert on Facebook noting that officers had been responding to "a rise in Trespassing and Suspicious Activity events" due to the game and reminding players that Pokémon is not an excuse for trespassing. Others have followed suit:
Please don't try it out at 1 AM and walk into someones backyard to catch one. Please.— Wyoming, MN Police (@wyomingpd) July 11, 2016
Pretty please.#PokemonGO https://t.co/olEv6GipbS
Meanwhile, one Arizona police department was as direct as possible when addressing the matter:
Don't break the law as you try to catch 'em all!#pokemongo safely. pic.twitter.com/yuMM68pg1z— Phoenix Police (@phoenixpolice) July 11, 2016
You could wind up in a real-life feud thanks to growing hostilities between playing teams, and non-players
Pokémon Go lets you join one of three international teams — Team Mystic, Team Valor, and Team Instinct — with fellow players and face off against other team players in your area. This might turn embarrassing if you get so wrapped up in the game that you destroy not only your sense of personal dignity but actual property. "Let’s be better than this," wrote a world-weary player on the Pokémon Go subreddit after running across the following defaced historical marker in a park.
Even if you’re not feuding with other teams, you could face hostilities from people who didn’t sign up for the Pokémon craze to land, often literally, in their backyard. In Australia, residents of a small upscale Sydney neighborhood weren’t prepared to deal with what happened when their area became a prime location for certain "rare" Pokémon and was subsequently invaded by thousands of players:
Residents in the area reportedly began pelting players with water balloons, trash, and eggs in order to get them off the property. One resident told BuzzFeed she thinks "someone is going to get hurt soon."
How worried should people actually be about the dangers of playing Pokémon Go?
I'm so old I remember when video games were bad because they *prevented* kids going outside to play. https://t.co/HfB41OeA5I— Julian Sanchez (@normative) July 11, 2016
It’s true that Pokémon Go is getting flak for causing social chaos, even as it’s motivating people to leave the house and explore the world — and given that some critics have denounced video games for decades as harbingers of physical lassitude and moral turpitude, that seems a bit harsh.
And while the extreme case scenarios that distract police departments and fill the media with glee are the ones getting all the attention right now, the game clearly isn’t the public menace we’ve been told to fear, or else the many hordes of Pokémon seekers wouldn’t be so willing to risk their lives in pursuit of that rare Charizard. Or ... would they?
To walk around this neighborhood & risk my chances of being mugged, raped, or hit with trespassing charges over Pokémon? I mean, seems worth— Ari la Flame (@aristophertran) July 7, 2016
In other words, some risks are simply worth taking. "Don’t let this be a reason to live in fear," an unidentified player told USA Today. "Let this be an opportunity for parents to start walking around with their kids again."
The bottom line: Okay, yes, Pokémon might actually be coming to kill us all. But if our impending demise is inevitable, then why not get out there and try to catch 'em all?
After all, pesky threats like death, robbery, shooting, assault, racism, violence, harassment, traffic collisions, panicked police, and egging shouldn’t stop you from having a good time.