Is Pokemon Go Dangerous?

The monstrous popularity of Pokemon Go is spurring new conversations about the potential health benefits and dangers of mobile augmented reality games.

The monstrous popularity of Pokémon Go is spurring new conversations about the potential health benefits and dangers of mobile augmented reality games (ARGs).

Pokémon Go, an ARG developed by Niantic, uses GPS technology to allow smartphone users to track down and digitally collect the eponymous creatures from Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise in the real world.

Shortly after Pokémon Go was launched in North America, it became evident that the game was motivating many mobile gamers, including a number who considered themselves to be relatively sedentary, to be more physically active. Nursing school instructor and self-proclaimed Pokémon professor Matt Hoffman, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, explained that the game incentivized players to remain active by rewarding them for exploring their neighborhoods in search of Pokémon, as well as for walking 2, 5 or 10 km to hatch Pokémon eggs.

“I personally view Pokémon Go as a strong tool to combat childhood obesity in our nation, so I would certainly recommend it as an option to children and parents looking to participate in low-impact and sustainable physical activity,” Dr. Hoffman told Pharmacy Times.

The game could also potentially improve cognitive development, alleviate depression, and help patients with autism to socialize, according to Dr. Hoffman.

However, in a recent editorial, Games for Health Journal editor-in-chief Tom Baranowski, PhD, noted that although the initial impressions of Pokémon Go’s benefits are encouraging, further research is needed to establish the extent to which it and other ARGs can play a role in helping patients remain physically active.

Questions that can potentially be explored by such studies include:

  • What are the demographics of ARG players?
  • What aspects of Pokémon Go contributed to the game’s popularity?
  • What differentiated players who were more willing to engage in physical activity to play Pokémon Go from those who were not?
  • How crucial were Pokémon Go’s social elements to the games’ experience?
  • How can players be encouraged to remain physically active after their interest in an ARG wanes?

Dr. Baranowski expressed hope that research-based answers to those questions could aid in the creation of mobile games designed to promote physical activity among players, as well as forge partnerships between academics and ARG developers that would allow researchers to further investigate the health benefits of ARGs.

“Such alliances could redound to the benefit of both the academics (eg, innovative exciting public health relevant research publications) and the companies (eg, media reports of positive health outcomes to attract more product purchases),” he wrote.

However, Pokémon Go has raised its fair share of concerns. Conrad Earnest, PhD, a researcher at Texas A&M University who recently completed a study on texting and walking, compared the dangers of Pokémon Go to those of texting, explaining that players immersed in the game may not be fully aware of their surroundings

“Players are more likely to cross at a time when the crosswalk signs aren’t giving a clear go. They’re more likely to cross in the middle of the street as opposed to a crosswalk,” Dr. Earnest stated in a press release. “I think Pokémon Go is the potential recipe for more injuries and more pedestrian or traffic accidents.”

More alarmingly, some players continue to search for Pokémon while driving—a dangerous trend that has been tied to a number of reported accidents.

In response to these concerns, Niantic has updated the game to remind players to be aware of their surroundings and to not play while driving. Additionally, players who are detected moving at high speeds are now required to verify that they are not behind the wheel of a car before resuming their Pokémon hunt.

In addition to emphasizing that Pokémon Go should never be played while driving, Dr. Hoffman provided the following safety tips for all aspiring Pokémon trainers to keep in mind as they play the game:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather
  • Wear sunscreen during the day
  • Only play in well-lit public spaces at night
  • Travel as a group
  • Keep phones adequately charged in case of emergency situations