5 Rules for Playing Pokémon Go as You Travel
You don’t need to know your Pikachu from your Squirtle to realize that, wherever you travel, the world is currently in the midst of a Pokémon Go epidemic — stats say it’s even more popular than online porn at the moment. If your two biggest questions about the mind-numbingly popular video game are, “Wait, wasn’t Pokémon a thing in the 1990s?” and “What the heck is Pokémon Go anyway?,” you’re not alone.
First, a brief primer: The Pokémon craze began back in the mid-1990s as a series of video games for Nintendo’s original Game Boy, which proved popular enough to spawn an entire media franchise, complete with toys, trading cards, a television series, more than a dozen movies and pretty much anything else you could stick its branding on. Players, who are known as Pokémon Trainers, are immersed in the game and tasked with catching a variety of Pokémon species, sort of like entomology for the gaming crowd.
Pokémon Go, which is now available as a free download for Android and iOS devices, takes that challenge into the real world (or an “augmented reality”) by utilizing your cell phone’s GPS and clock to determine your exact whereabouts and make catchable Pokémon characters “appear” all around you (read: show up on your phone screen so that you can nab them or, in Pokémon parlance, "catch them all"). And it’s not just a phenomenon here in America; people are playing in Europe and Australia, too, while more countries are embracing it all the time — a man in Auckland even quit his job to become a full-time “Pokémon hunter.”
If all of this is second nature to you, or sounds exciting enough that you want in on the game, it’s time to join up with the estimated 9.5 million people who are already exploring the world with one eye on their smartphones. But before you do, we’d like to offer a few invaluable tips — based on some lessons others have learned the hard way — on how to stay safe while Pokémon hunting on the go.
1. Beware of Sudden Drops in Elevation
Earlier this week, two men — both in their early 20s — playing Pokémon Go in Encinitas, California, were so engrossed in the virtual characters on their phones that they fell off a cliff. Both of them! As firefighters worked to rescue one of the men, who had fallen an estimated 75 to 100 feet down the bluff, they found the second man, who had fallen about 50 feet, and was unconscious. According to the Los Angeles Times, both individuals were rushed to a nearby trauma center and were said to have sustained moderate injuries. The fire department noted that the players had trespassed into a fenced off area in order to continue their gameplay.
“I think people just need to realize this is a game,” San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Rich Eaton said. “It’s not worth your life. No game is worth your life.”
2. Be Respectful of Sacred Landmarks
While interacting with the real world is part of what makes Pokémon Go so much fun, it might be safe to say that the species is lacking a certain amount of respect for places and things that should be held sacred. Maybe they just don’t know any better. But many of the world’s most solemn sites have seen an uptick in visitors who have come not to pay tribute, but to catch a Charizard. A number of world landmarks have become designated PokéStops (places that are known to be crawling with Pokémon). Among them? The Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. and New York City’s 9/11 Memorial.
In Dunmore, Pennsylvania, three people were locked inside a cemetery while playing the game.
In Amsterdam, Pokémon Trainers breached restricted areas of the Academic Medical Centre in the name of gameplay. In response, the hospital tweeted a picture of a bandaged Pikachu, noting that "There is indeed a sick Pokémon at AMC, but we'll look after him well. Please don't visit him."
The White House has also seen some Pokémon action.
3. Subway Tracks Should Only Be Traversed From the Inside of a Subway Car
Concerned about injuries that might be, the New York City MTA issued a warning to Pokémon Trainers, urging them to use caution while playing the game and to “stay behind that yellow line when in the subway.” They have reason to be worried: players in the Netherlands have been regularly wandering onto railways tracks because of the promise of highly sought-after Pokémon creatures. The problem has gotten so bad that a representative from the railway, ProRail, reached out to Nintendo and requested that they update the game.
4. Keep Your Eyes on the Road
A road trip can be one of life’s most enjoyable and scenic endeavors. But you’ll miss it all if your eyes are glued to your smartphone — and if you’re the driver, you might even miss that tree standing right in front of you. A driver in Auburn, New York, smashed his vehicle smack dab into a tree just before 11:00pm earlier this week because he was playing Pokémon Go instead of looking at the road. And, sadly, he’s not the only one.
5. Pokémon Go Is Not a Travel App
Does Pokémon Go force players to interact with the real world? Yes (to a certain degree). Does it help them commune with nature? Sure (even if they’re too distracted to notice the beauty surrounding them — like that aforementioned tree). Does it inspire them to explore new places? Definitely — but mostly in the name of gaming, and mostly nearby. While there are certain elements of the game that actually mimic what some of the best travel apps do, like let you explore little-known parts of a place, Pokémon Go is not a travel app. And just because a place is an official PokéStop doesn’t mean that it’s safe for visitors, or at all hours. Though the game only launched this month, there have already been numerous reports of people being robbed and even carjacked by nefarious types who have used the game to lure unsuspecting victims. Additionally, more than one player has gotten more than he or she bargained for by discovering a dead body instead of a virtual character. Which we guess is one way to guarantee a memorable trip.