Pokémon Go: Safe Play in Augmented Reality

smartphone displays image of pokemon go gameplay
Mind the Bellsprout! Multitasking is one example of unsafe play. Source image

Gamers’ excitement peaked as the Pokémon Go app launched in Canada on July 17th, but since its release, there have been reports of some players “catching” more than they expected.

Pokémon Go is a mobile app that requires players to roam the earth looking for and attempting to capture Pokémon characters. The game features a virtual world with real locations where Pokémon can be found. Once players arrive at these locations, Pokémon can be captured by aiming their mobile device and  using the touch screen to toss a Pokéball at the creatures that appear in augmented reality. The game creates an index of captured Pokémon called a Pokédex. By adding to their Pokédex, a player advances in levels, which grants access to different types of Pokémon and more powerful items within the game.

Sound like fun? It must be, given that over 15M users that downloaded the app to date – enough to crash the game’s servers within hours of its release. Yet some have encountered risks that they may have not anticipated as part of their gaming experience.

There have been reports of players wandering across the US borderbeing struck by cars, drowning, veering off the roadway, being shot at while being mistaken for intruders, and even discovering dead bodies while searching for Pokémon in remote locations.

There have also been reports of players wandering onto private property while chasing Pokémon resulting in trespassing charges. Most would think that the risk of injury, charges and fines would undermine the allure of adding a Pokémon to the collection but it does not seem to deter devoted players.

Ironically, a recent online video – intended to be a satirical depiction of the dangers chasing Pokémon – created dangers of its own: an actor is shown using the app while walking on TTC subway tracks and across busy downtown intersections.

Supporters of the game point out that despite these isolated and unfortunate incidents, the game has many positive benefits including promoting an active lifestyle and encouraging players to discover local landmarks.


Legal Liability – What are the potential legal consequences?

Pokemon GO loading screen warns players to stay aware of their surroundingsWhether Niantic (owned by Alphabet, née Google), the creators of the game, can be held responsible for the conduct of their players or injuries suffered as a result of playing the game is yet to be seen. Interestingly, players are reminded to be aware of their surroundings while the game loads.

All players must consent to the “Terms of Use” prior to downloading the app, which includes an obligation to “comply with all applicable laws and legal obligations” during play. Despite lengthy disclaimers, it will be interesting to see whether this waiver is upheld if the number of related incidents increase or if someone is seriously injured. While the disclaimer states that the game is not intended for minors and encourages parental supervision, it is foreseeable that many players may be under the age of majority.


Playing Safe

Distraction is a common factor in many of these incidents. Like with any activity, players are encouraged to exercise common sense and be aware of their surroundings and real world dangers.

In response to incidents related to Pokémon GO, some have called for new legislation to address distracted walking. Proponents argue that distracted pedestrians rely on taxpayers to foot the bill if medical care is required to treat an injury, and so new laws should be put in place to deter this behaviour. Opponents point to accident statistics which show that the frequency of collisions involving inattentive pedestrians has not seen significant change.

According to Pokémon Go’s official page, a portable Bluetooth device called the Pokémon Go Plus will be released later this month. The device is worn on the wrist and will vibrate to alert players when a Pokémon is nearby. To capture the Pokémon, users will simply press a button on the device rather than requiring use of their smartphones. Hopefully, these devices will promote safer game play.

In the meantime, embrace the opportunity to reconnect with your community, but be aware that your presence on private property may be unwanted, unsafe, or illegal.


Written by

Michael Giordano is a founding partner of Avanessy Giordano LLP. Prior to establishing his own practice, he was a partner of a prominent personal injury firm.

He completed his law degree at the University of Ottawa. Prior to law school, Michael studied English and Law & Society at York University.

Michael is an active member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA). He was elected Chair of OTLA’s New Lawyers’ Division in 2017 and previously held the Vice-Chair position in 2014 and 2016. Michael was also the 2017 recipient of the Martin Wunder, Q.C. Outstanding New Lawyer Award. In 2018, he was voted onto OTLA’s Board of Directors.

He is a regular contributor to the OTLA blog and has also written articles for The Litigator.