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USA Binges Pokémon Go while World Waits

Published onJul 18, 2016
USA Binges Pokémon Go while World Waits

It’s beginning to look a lot like the ‘90s.

On July 6, Pokémon Go launched using smartphone cameras to create an “augmented reality” in which animated, mystical creatures originally introduced in 1996 are displayed in real-life settings like parks, offices and living rooms.  GPS puts players’ human avatars on a real map of their surroundings and encourages local exploration and exercise on the quest to “catch ‘em all.”

Like in the original Pokémon games, players must find and capture their Pokémon, or “pocket monsters,” with the iconic red and silver Pokéballs.  Players must enhance the creatures with special candies and eventually battle other players’ Pokémon in Pokémon gyms.  The new version, however, requires that players walk to different Pokéstops, which, like Pokémon gyms, are real-life landmarks and businesses. There, at sites including the White House and the Pentagon, players can collect Pokéballs and other virtual items.  Additionally, Pokémon eggs can only be hatched when the player completes a two, five or ten kilometer walk, depending on the hatchling’s rareness.

Players have reported an increase in exercise and social interaction since beginning their quests.  One user noted, “My dog has never been walked so much in her life.” Google search rates for “5km in miles” have skyrocketed since the release.  Other users, lethargic or impatient, have teamed up as drivers and navigators, the latter of which play both parties’ devices.

Pokémon Go is already more popular than Tinder, and will soon surpass Twitter, despite its flooded servers.  Its wild popularity in the United States, Australia and New Zealand has prompted Niantic, Inc. to delay the global release.  On Tuesday, The Pokémon Company said it had “no comment to share on international rollout or future release at this time,” after missing the rumored July 11 release date for Japan.

The game, developed by Google spin-off Niantic, inspired by The Pokémon Company, and backed by Nintendo, Co. Ltd., proves that Pokémon and other childhood favorites have the ability to survive outside of their original consoles and that perhaps Nintendo may be able to stop its boom/bust pendulum.  The company saw a one-day 25 percent increase in its stock price, which equates to an approximately $9 billion gain.

Critics, however, warn players to consider the risks of playing such a “Big-Brother-y” game.  The free app has been downloaded at least 7.5 million times in the United States, likely making it “one of the largest personal location databases in history,” and sparking a national discussion on public safety and privacy law.

Users that log in through a Google account may have given the app unrestricted access to their Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Maps.  The app’s privacy policy states information collection is a “business asset,” and that Niantic has a right “to share non-identifying information with third parties ‘for research and analysis, demographic profiling and other similar purposes,” and perhaps even for a price.

Local landmarks and businesses are trying to capitalize on the increased foot traffic around Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms.  Shopkeepers at these locations may set Lure Modules, which for 30 minutes increasingly attract Pokémon and those hoping to catch them.  One library that was designated as both a Pokémon gym and Pokéstop plans to release a Lure Module before its Summer Reading Program, and a San Francisco tea store is offering players a “buy one, get one free” deal.

Despite technological difficulties, deviations from the original games, and possible privacy issues, Pokémon Go players have no plans to stop playing anytime soon.  Just one question remains: who will “be the very best, like no one ever was?

Rachel Raimondi is a third year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University at Buffalo.  Upon graduation, she intends to practice transactional law.

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