If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the game are able to catch, train, and battle Pokémon by walking around in the real world. However, many experts say that playing the game can be risky.
The problem, they say, is that players may be so absorbed by what is happening on their phone screens that they inadvertently put themselves in danger by tripping and falling or walking into traffic. One researcher says that the game’s design may be partially to blame.
“The problem with Pokémon Go, in my opinion, is that it leads to a whole new level of not only slowing down, but moving in a particular direction to chase your Pokémon,” said Conrad Earnest, a research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab.
The problem, Earnest says, is two-fold. First, players are more likely to engage in dangerous walking habits when using the app. His research shows that distracted walkers are more likely to slow down, take more steps, and increase the height of their steps to get over obstacles. This, he says, leads to an increased likelihood of trip-and-fall accidents.
The second problem is that players are not paying as much attention to their surroundings and tend to blindly follow the prompts of the game in order to catch a Pokémon.
“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. I think Pokémon Go is the potential recipe for more injuries and more pedestrian or traffic accidents,” he said.
The dangers don’t just stop with those who choose to walk and play, though. Against the advice of the app, many players choose to play the game and drive at the same time. These distracted drivers can be extremely dangerous to those around them, something that Earnest knows all too well.
“A friend of mine was riding his unicycle in a low and slow traffic area and was crossing the street in a crosswalk. A woman in a car was chasing a Pokémon, ran a stop sign and hit him,” Earnest said – adding that his friend ended up being OK, albeit a little sore.
“The more distractions you throw in the mix when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, the greater likelihood of you running into a problem,” he concluded.