By Melissa Maehara
“It’s time to get moving—your real-life adventures await!” is the call to action behind developers Niantic and their highly-addictive Pokémon Go. And since the app’s July 7 release on iTunes and Google Play this year, “get moving” is exactly what a record-breaking 75 million people are doing—on foot and by car.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game that invites users to capture, battle, breed, hatch and evolve Pokémons found lurking in the real world. Like creatures of the kingdom Animalia (or reality), Pokémons dwell in settings hospitable to their natural instincts or elemental aspect—water, desert, mountain habitats host their own geographically specific Pokémons.
In addition to Pokémon hunting in urban and rural landscapes, PokéStops and Gyms are located near historic landmarks, cultural institutions and even businesses are getting in on this craze (their investment serving as a means to increase foot traffic), allowing users to collect essential gaming items (i.e. Poké Balls, eggs, potions) and train their Pokémons in preparation for imminent battle when the time comes.
While the intention behind Niantic Labs’ genius was to create an innovative platform for people to explore their neighborhoods (with an added layer of marketable gamification, accessories and in-app microtransactions on a macro scale, of course), it has spawned some unprecedented Pokémania. The US alone boasts some of the more extreme and bizarre headlines of negative consequences tied to the game—from late night explorations on private property ending in shots fired, misunderstanding the context of “Want to battle?” provoking a stab wound, luring gamers with rare Pokémons as bait in armed robbery, to driving while under the influence of Go.
The surging popularity of Pokémon Go has raised concerns by government officials, particularly those in the state Department of Transportation. Washington state and Arizona have been quick to act, as well as the far reaches of Australia’s Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services. While Washington and Australia have taken their cause and message of “Don’t Pokémon and Drive!” to their social media channels, Arizona has gone further with this mission, posting highway warning signs, “Pokémon Go is a no-go when driving.” However, these are simple warnings. It is unclear to what extent and when legal sanctions will actually catch up with this trending driver distraction.
But, why are people even getting behind the wheel and playing? Unfortunately, some of the game’s limitations and rules of engagement have actually made car-play more conducive to game play.
- Battery life is a prime example. Problem: Go is a killer on smartphone batteries. Solution: An in-vehicle power supply equals continuous battery life and longer Pokémon prowling sessions.
- Darwin, is totally missing out on Go’s Evolution Shards! Problem: In order for any Pokémon in the Pokedex posse to evolve, it requires capture of a preset quantity of the species itself. In short, people need Pokémons to level up and find even rarer species—for prestige, for glory, for ownership of Gyms and… ok, that is where it ends! Solution: Capture and gather all these nimble creatures as quick as possible (especially before other obsessive gamers in your locale) and driving is faster than walking, unless you’re stuck in LA gridlock.
- Lastly, just as in the original video game, hatching eggs is directly linked to the distance you travel. In this case, walking. Problem: You have to walk to hatch your Pokémons! (Exercise? Gasp!) Additionally, these eggs have to be placed in an “incubator” during transit which requires the app to continuously run in the background; again, draining the battery. Different eggs require different travel spans—more walking, more battery consumption, more wtf—Just give me the Pokémons already! Solution: Who doesn’t like a shortcut? Get in the car, do the day-to-day errands, find Pokémons and hatch all incubated eggs in the inventory in one speedy fell swoop. Multitasking has never been so fun, so fulfilling.
Despite the prior problem/solution rant of the people vs. Niantic Labs, shortcutters and cheats beware! Yes, you can drive to get to PokéStops faster and capture epic and mythical classes before competing walkers with a faithfully-full battery reserve at your side. Yes, you’ll cover greater distances and hatch eggs quicker (that is potentially). Despite efforts devoted to eternal battery life and racking up the kilometers, distance is only logged and accounted for when traveling at a sluggish 20 kph (Yea, grandma just passed you in your blind spot—look up!). And, a much bigger con is the risk and implicit danger you put yourself, fellow drivers and pedestrians when driving distracted.
While meaningful distracted driving statistics related specifically to Pokémon Go are currently unavailable, we can conclude a lot from the dangers of texting while driving. The CDC reports that 8 Americans are killed daily in distracted driving accidents and the National Safety Council estimates that 25% of these accidents involved a cellphone. According to a study on driver distraction published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, glances more than just 2 seconds from the road can increase the risk of crashes or near crashes (CNCs); meanwhile, David Hosansky’s article for CQ Researcher on cellphone use while driving found it takes drivers an average of 4.6 seconds to respond to texts. Combining these facts and putting them into perspective: If you’re going 89 kph on the highway and texting a response, you will have traveled the the length of an entire soccer field without looking at the road once. Think about it—if it’s 4.6 seconds for a quick “OMW!” or insert of some sarcastic emoji and hitting send, how many more seconds are spent capturing wild Pokémons while en route?
The point is simple and clear: Don’t Pokémon Go and drive. But, by all means go, get those little critters—Jigglypuff and Pikachu and their entire entourage. Go! But before you venture forth, here are some safety tips to get you out in the Pokémon world without causing injury to yourself or others:
- Scout PokéStops and Gyms prior to a drive. Find a point of genuine interest that sates your Pokéquota for the day, put the location in your dash cam’s GPS, stow your phone and drive safely.
- Charge the phone while in-vehicle with the app running in the background, but—and, this is a big BUT—turn the phone to silent or vibrate mode (if you can handle it) so as not to be distracted by notifications of Pokémons in your vicinity.
- Do as the game developers intended—walk! Explore your neighborhoods, check out new and intriguing historic sites and nab those Pokémons while you’re at it on foot.
Adventure is waiting! So, get moving—responsibly.