Pokemon Go: 11 Real-World Hazards of the Catch 'Em All Craze

5:19 PM 7/12/2016

by THR staff

Nintendo's new gaming app — which has become an overnight sensation — sends players out into the real world to capture augmented-reality Pokemon.

Poke?mon Go Screenshot Split H 2016
@CatchthemalI/Twitter; @PokeWire/Twitter

Pokemon Go has everyone trying to "catch 'em all."

Thanks to nostalgia for the '90s Nintendo game, excitement over its mass introduction to augmented reality and a summertime launch amid a time when players could use a distraction from the current news cycle, it only took one weekend of playing for the Nintendo-owned gaming app to become an overnight sensation — even boosting Nintendo's stock in the wake of its July 6 launch. On Wednesday, it became the biggest mobile game in U.S. history.

But with its popularity comes another price.

The augmented reality (AR) app, which uses GPS-tracking and technology that superimposes a digital facade on the real world, is sending players out into their cities to capture Pokemon characters. The hunt to catch Pikachu and other virtual creatures has already lured gamers into the hands of armed robbers and has turned private residences and sacred sites into "Pokestops," or virtual magnets for gamers. The game has even helped to uncover a dead body.

As THR explained, AR games raise legal concerns over trespassing, players stumbling across crime scenes, personal injuries and risks to minors. (The major upside? Getting couch potatoes to exercise.)

Here are the latest real-world hazards to come out of the Pokemon Go craze, with more sure to pop up as the phenomenon continues to gain traction in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

(Hint: Don't play and drive — and remember to look up.)

  • Holocaust Museum, 9/11 Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery Become "Pokestops"

    Pokemon Go has turned three sacred landmarks into Pokestops, layering a digital hub for gamers over the real-life Holocaust Museum, Arlington National Cemetery and 9/11 Memorial.

    By luring gamers to the virtual hub where players can earn free items, the Washington, D.C. and New York City sites have seen gamers attempt to capture the characters throughout their property.

    "Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism," Andrew Hollinger, the communications director, told The Washington Post. "We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game."

    On Wednesday, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland released a statement requesting that the site of the Memorial be left out of the game. Writing on Twitter, "Do not allow playing #PokemonGO on the site of our Memorial and similar places. It's disrespectful on many levels."

    "Out of respect for all those interred at Arlington National Cemetery, we require the highest level of decorum from our guests and visitors," cemetery officials said in a statement on their website. "Playing games such as Pokemon Go on these hallowed grounds would not be deemed appropriate. We request that visitors to ANC refrain from such activity."

    At the 9/11 Memorial, the New York Post reported that the purple monster Koffing hovered near the reflecting pool on Tuesday — next to the thousands of names of first responders who lost their lives.

  • Two Players Fall Off 90-Foot Cliff (and Survive)

    Two men were so distracted by their smartphones that they fell off a beachside bluff in California on Wednesday.

    One fell 80 to 90 feet onto the beach below, while the other fell 50 feet down the Encinitas, Calif., cliff and was unconscious when found, the San Diego Union-Tribute reported.

    It was daylight when the players crawled through a fence — ignoring a sign warning the public about the dangerous bluffs — and onto the unstable cliff in hopes of catching Pokemon characters. After falling off the edge, firefighters ultimately came to their rescue to pull them up to safety with ropes and harnesses. 

    Both players were taken to a trauma center with moderate injuries. Their names and ages were not released.

  • Player Stabbed While Looking for a Late-Night Virtual Battle

    Michael Baker was stabbed while playing the game near his home in Forest Grove, Ore., around 1 a.m. Monday morning.

    The game has been encouraging social interactions, with strangers conversing and battling each other while playing. So when Baker — who said he's "gotta be the first one to catch them all" — came across another man who was also on his phone, he asked if he was playing.

    "He wanted to battle real life," Baker told the local news about the man pulling out a knife and stabbing the player in the shoulder. "I basically risked my life."

    After the stabbing, he didn't immediately go to the hospital because he wanted to finish his virtual mission. He eventually got eight stitches on his shoulder and the man remains at large.

  • Girl Gets Hit By a Car Following Game Map

    Autumn Diesroth, 15, was only playing for 30 minutes before she was struck by a car when crossing a major intersection in Tarentum, Pa.

    "The Pokemon game took her across a major, major highway at 5 o'clock in the evening, which is rush hour," mother Tracy Nolan told the local news. "Parents: Don't let you kids play this game, because you don't want to go what I went through last night. I really thought I was losing my daughter."

    Diesroth remained hospitalized with a collarbone  and foot injury and several cuts and bruises as of Wednesday.

  • Google Sign-In Sparks Privacy Outrage

    Apple gamers were not happy about the data accessed by Pokemon Go.

    After downloading the game, iPhone users were asked to login with their Google account — a permissions prompt that "erroneously requests" full access to the player's Google account.

    According to Google, full access allows an app to see and modify nearly all information in a Google Account, save for changing passwords, making Google Pay purchases or deleting the account. 

    Pokemon Go developer Niantic Labs said in a blog post that the game only accesses basic profile information but that they were working on a fix. The update arrived on Tuesday afternoon and can now be downloaded in the App Store

  • Trio Gets Locked in Cemetery

    Three Pennsylvania gamers got locked inside a cemetery and needed police to get free, according to the Times-Tribune of Scranton. 

    They were tracking Pokemon on the app, which led them to the cemetery, but didn't realize that it closed at dusk and got locked inside the gates. They had to call the police Tuesday night to let them out.

    Police say the trio will not be charged for trespassing, which is quickly becoming another side effect of the game. 

  • Players Lured By Armed Robbers

    In Missouri, armed robbers used the game's "lure model" to attract solo gamers to an isolated location.

    Using a geolocation feature that allows players to send high numbers of Pokemon to a real-world location for 30 minutes, the robbers were able to "locate ppl standing around in the middle of a parking lot," the O'Fallon Missouri Police Department said of the three adults and one minor who were taken into custody on Sunday. 

    In response, Niantic released a statement with The Pokemon Company International: "We encourage all people playing Pokemon Go to be aware of their surroundings and to play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places. Please remember to be safe and alert at all times."

  • Teen Uncovers Dead Body While Glued to Phone

    In an attempt to catch a Pokemon, 19-year-old Shayla Wiggins of Wyoming helped to uncover a dead body.

    "I probably would have never went down there if it weren't for this game," she told CNN of her discovery of a deceased man by the Big Wind River.

    While glued to her phone, the teen stumbled upon the unidentified body lying face down in six feet of water. "I guess I was only paying attention to my phone and where I was walking," she said, adding that she still plans to play the game.

  • Man's Home Turns Into a Pokemon Gym

    Boon Sheridan discovered that he was living in a Pokemon gym when dozens of strangers began to pull up outside his Holyoke, Mass., home starting Saturday.

    At first Sheridan found the scene to be amusing, but his concerns over privacy grew as he documented the events on Twitter. 

    "Do I even have rights when it comes to a virtual location imposed on me?" he asked in a tweet. 

    A "gym" is where players, or "trainers," gather to battle against each other for control over the location. The gyms are supposed to be public places, but Sheridan's home is a former 19th-century church, which likely sparked the designation.

  • Players Interfere With Police Search

    Players in Lincoln, Neb., accidentally got in the way of a police search for a man who had fled from a convenience store where a clerk was killed last week.

    According to the Associated Press, the man may have been spotted, but he ran off. When a police dog was used to track the man who had fled, the dog got distracted by the scents of several people who were playing the game nearby.

  • Creatures Invade New York Subway

    New York City's MTA issued an advisory to players on Monday after creatures like Doduo began to hover near the city's subway tracks and on station escalators.

    "We know you gotta catch 'em all, but stay behind that yellow line," they tweeted.

  • Man shoots at players outside his house

    A Florida man fired shots at two Pokemon Go players outside his house late Friday night, authorities say. 

    A Flagler County Sheriff's Office spokesman said that the man woke up to find a car sitting in the road in front of his house, so he got his handgun and approached the car. As the teens in the car drove away, he fired shots at them. 

    No one was injured, but authorities were notified when the mother of one of the players called the sheriff when she found bullet holes in the car's tire, according to the Associated Press.