Pokemon is nothing new. Since the late 90s, gamers have captured, trained and battled with hundreds of little creatures from the comfort of their couches. Pokemon has spawned anime and manga television series, a few dozen films and a lovely low-tech card trading game that cost unknown numbers of third graders stern reprimands during silent reading time. Now, the Pokemon franchise gives us some legal issues to consider.
Earlier this summer, Pokemon Go was launched, to the delight of millions of Poke-fans worldwide. The augmented reality app, in which the previously mentioned characters lurk about in public venues just begging to be captured, has been downloaded more than the Tinder dating app. According to The Washington Post, Pokemon Go is about to catch up to Twitter, which has been around a full decade.
One creator of the new app said that one goal was to challenge the tendency of video games to create mom’s-basement-dwellers of otherwise healthy kids. With terminologies such as “Nature Deficit Disorder” picking up speed among diagnosing professionals, a team at Niantec (who created the app) sought to harness the Poke-craze into a game that gets folks up and moving. Pokemon characters are planted in abundance throughout public places, overlaid into the real-world environment, and players must actually walk outside in order to catch them.
For some parents, the Pokemon Go app was a dream come true, as kids of all ages headed outdoors to pursue Pikachu. Calories have been burned, sunshine has been absorbed, fresh air has been inhaled, but the game has come with a whole new set of legal issues for parents to consider. News stories and urban legends have arisen in response to the craze, most telling stories of players walking off cliffs or being hit by automobiles while striving to operate in the real world while focused on their phones.
Parents and children will benefit from strategic conversations regarding use of the app.
- Always be aware of location. While most Pokemon characters are located in public places, it’s important to consider how you get to them. Cutting across private property (you know, trespassing) in order to capture a rare character is never OK. Also use best judgment when it comes to appropriateness of hunting a Pokemon. The Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. asked to be removed as a Pokemon Go location because playing the game was inappropriate there. The same has happened locally with veterans’ memorial sites. Stick to public areas meant for recreation.
- Don’t forget about real people and real damage. When players chase Pokemon, the physical environment shows up on their phone screens, but the cars, bikes and other people with whom collision is imminent do not. These considerations go back to the “look both ways” common sense advice that has applied since the wheel was invented. When you download the app, you sign a form acknowledging your own liability, should damage occur to a third party while you’re playing. Keep that liability in mind at all times, and watch where you’re going.
The best advice? Go with your young players. Observe them playing and talk about habits they can adopt to remain safe and respectful of others. Consider downloading and playing it yourself, if you’re able, and model positive behaviors as you do. Good luck with that Pikachu.
Article by Brian Weber, La Crosse WI Attorney. For an attorney in La Crosse WI, call him at 608-784-5678.