When Assistant to the Head of Upper School Michelle Bracken received a call from her sister-in-law, she was expecting a casual chat about family and friends, she said. Instead, her sister-in-law informed Bracken that her nephew had been robbed at gunpoint while catching Pokemon.
Bracken’s nephew had been Pokemon hunting in North Hollywood with a friend when a driver pulled over and held them at gunpoint, demanding their keys, wallets and phones.
He was playing Pokemon Go, a mobile app based on The Pokemon Company’s cartoon “pocket monsters.” Developed by the software company Niantic, Inc., Pokemon Go has soared to the top of the download charts since its release in July, making more than $14 million within a week of its launch. According to a Chronicle poll of 337 students, 48 percent of students play Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go presents a GPS-based augmented reality game, complete with gyms where players can battle one another. It also includes “Pokestops,” which are local landmarks players visit to restock on supplies, including “Pokeballs,” used to catch Pokemon and healing potions, which can restore the health of wounded Pokemon. As players roam the physical world, their digital counterparts traverse an on-screen map, searching for Pokemon that seemingly surface at random. The app also enables the phone’s camera to show a live feed of surroundings to serve as a backdrop for the cartoon creatures that appear.
Bracken’s nephew is one of the many players who have fallen victim to armed robberies because of Pokemon Go. Robbers across the country have allegedly used the app’s geolocation feature to anticipate players’ locations or to lure them to certain hazardous Pokestops where predators may be waiting, according to The Guardian.
“It’s kind of scary,” Bracken said. “This is just one of the examples of how somebody who has bad intentions can take advantage of a fun thing like Pokemon Go.”
In spite of the numerous incidents of crime surrounding the new game, Bracken said Pokemon Go can be just as fun and safe as any other smartphone app. However, players should consider the safety concerns and make sure their personal information remains private.
“I think that once we’ve started hearing about these [incidents], people got smart with Pokemon Go and people stopped taking advantage of the game,” she said. “So players were safer and more careful. It seems pretty fun as long as kids aren’t hurting themselves or walking across the street without paying attention. It seems fairly innocent in that way.”
Pokemon Go represents a revival of childhood memories for those who grew up with Pokemon trading cards that were popular during the 1990s to early 2000s, Bracken said.
Matteo Lauto ’18 remembers catching Pokemon next to the Colosseum while on his tour of Rome.
“Seeing as I do play Pokemon in my free time, this app seemed like another fun way to interact with Pokemon,” Lauto said. “The game itself is very different from the usual Pokemon games, which was odd but refreshing.”
Lauto downloaded the app after coming across its trailer on Youtube. After playing for a month, he decided to use his summer travels as an opportunity to catch Pokemon around the world, he said.
“Whether it’s during a layover in Canada, looking at Michelangelo’s David or walking around the Trevi Fountain or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, my phone was ready to catch ‘em all,” Lauto said, referring to the Pokemon franchise’s slogan, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”.
Lauto said playing Pokemon Go has made his summer more exciting.
“The game wasn’t my first priority, of course, but it was a nice thing to have while traveling,” he said. “There are a lot of photos ruined by me looking at my phone instead of at the camera.”
English teacher Paul Chenier, who has played Pokemon Go himself, said the game evokes a sense of nostalgia, and the augmented reality aspect of the game is also a part of its appeal.
“I’ve never played anything before that overlays virtual things into the real world,” Chenier said. “It’s a great game.”
Chenier especially enjoys playing the game at art museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the atmosphere is often abuzz with excitement for Pokemon.
“I like the way places like LACMA have embraced the game,” Chenier said. “LACMA and The Getty were tweeting about how many gyms and Pokestops they had, and the LACMA cafe has great [Pokemon themed] donuts.”
Chenier said Pokemon Go is also different from other smartphone apps because its location-based nature promotes outdoor activity.
“The game encourages players to explore their urban environment as a pedestrian, which is a good thing, especially in LA,” he said.
Bracken said the app is a welcome change from other games that encourage prolonged sedentary behavior.
“It’s definitely more active than sitting and playing any of the other video games that I’m aware of,” she said. “I don’t think it’s as active as a sport or choosing to run, but it is more active than sitting in front of a monitor.”
This summer, Flynn Klace ’19 said she found herself exploring the outdoors as well as bonding with her family because of Pokemon Go. During their vacation in South Carolina, she and her 11 cousins often strolled along the beach while catching Pokemon together.
“Even though we were on our phones, we got closer just because we were spending so much more time together,” Klace said. “It was kind of an obsession, and we would talk about how to transfer them or how to catch one with higher [combat power].”
Despite initially releasing Pokemon Go in the U.S. and Australia, Niantic Inc. has since made the game available in 67 more countries across five continents. The app’s most recent update features safety reminders advising users not to play while driving.
The game’s developers added warnings after numerous car accidents in which drivers were catching Pokemon instead of watching the road.
Klace, however, considers those involved in accidents while playing Pokemon Go outliers. She believes the majority of the game’s players are not at risk for injury.
“[The players who got into accidents] are the crazy people who take it way too seriously by refusing to look up while driving a car because they’re so obsessed with catching one Pokemon,” she said. “Obviously no one should die while playing Pokemon Go.”
The recent rumors of danger surrounding Pokemon Go is all part of the fans’ hysteria, Chenier said.
“There is a lot of hand wringing in the news over the game,” Chenier said. “Anything new and popular produces that sort of news. It’s a sign that the game is different and fresh.”
News outlets such as ABC27 News claim that Pokemon Go will be a potential distraction for students in school. Bracken disagrees, saying that digital distractions have always existed for students and that Pokemon Go will not be any different from other mobile apps. Students will be allowed to play on campus to a certain extent, she said.
“I don’t know if it’ll be any more of a distraction than kids going on Facebook or checking their texts,” she said. “I think the adults are aware of it and if it becomes a problem we’ll have to deal with it, but I don’t think it’s another distraction.”
Moreover, Pokemon Go has become notorious for its technical drawbacks and malfunctions. Concerned players allege that the game excessively drains cellphone data and battery. Others have experienced server connectivity issues while playing.
Klace admits Pokemon Go often exhausts her phone’s battery, but she does not think the app has taken up too much of her data.
Although initially loving the game, Lauto’s experience was marred by constant server crashes, he said.
“I’d like to think the first two weeks of the game was our ‘honeymoon phase’, where I thought the game would change the world,” he said. “Now that it’s been out for a while, I can see it for what it is.”
Despite experiencing frustration with the game, Lauto is optimistic about the future of Pokemon Go.
“The concept is brilliant, but quite limited,” he said. “I can’t wait for future updates where they implement more exciting features such as trading and more generations of Pokemon.”