Is It Time to Worry About Pokemon?

A Pokemon player is rescued after walking off a dock.

If you haven’t noticed the Pokemon Go phenomenon in the past couple of weeks, realize that you are living a blessed life.

The video game — that’s all it is, people! — has taken the gaming world in the U.S. and other countries by storm. And by storm, I mean it has literally created a whirlwind of chaos at spots across the globe as frenzied gamers race through actual city streets, parks, public buildings and elsewhere hunting cartoon animals.

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That was in Central Park and seems relatively tame. Goofy fun, perhaps.

Here’s what happened in another park, where people started to run into each other, they were in such a hurry to “catch” their Pokemon. (Apparently, when these things spawn in the game, there is usually only one, and it’s first-come, first-serve.):

But some of the videos are more concerning, as people are so wrapped up in their game that they completely fail to register their surroundings, like this fellow, apparently in Germany:

In Australia, police in Rhodes had to chase out players of the Pokemon game because they were swarming a park late at night that features a convergence of “pokestops,” the game’s geographically based landmarks that track players’ locations, scores and “captures,” and convey experience points and other rewards.

The game, being such a broad-based “augmented reality” system, perhaps inevitably has led to some unintended consequences, such as the discovery of a dead body, robberies by criminals who’ve figured out how to use the game to their advantage, and the appearance of various Pokemon in highly inappropriate, even dangerous places.

From funeral homes to the Holocaust Museum, many organizations have taken to posting signs prohibiting Pokemon playing on site. Arlington Cemetery has banned the games.

According to NBC News, one site the game designed for kids lures California players to is actually a halfway house for sex offenders. At least one player drove his car full speed into a tree. One player in Oregon was approached by someone who seemed to be another player and stabbed.

In Orlando, a couple of players were shot at by a home owner who mistook them for burglars. In Encinitas, California, two players walked off a cliff.

Phone companies’ response to all this chaos being played on cell phones has been to offer special discounts to players so they don’t burn all their air time. I guess the “Go” is for “go, capitalism.”

The game has invaded college campuses as well, something I’ve witnessed at colleges I visit. And not just the young, community college kids who don’t know yet what to do with their lives, but also people in graduate and post-graduate schools — the sort of people who should be more serious about their education and usually too busy to play games. I’ve even spotted a couple of professors getting caught up.

But the incident that scared me most happened just the other day, when I personally had to grab two young adults by the backpacks and physically pull them back so they didn’t step in front of a rolling bus. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten hit, but it was close enough that even in this litigation-happy era we’re in, I decided I’d better grab two strangers for their own good.

This Pokemon Go trance — and it does appear to be some sort of an actual trance — that players get in seems to me to be an extension of something I’ve noticed and been concerned about for some time. I’m a big fan of public transportation, and on buses and trains, it’s not just common but almost certain that when you board, you will see a majority of the passengers with ear buds in place, eyes directed at a phone or iPad screen, fingers obsessively flicking screens or tapping buttons.

I know it’s always been common for people on public transit to bring a distraction with them — a book, a pocket radio or some such. But modern electronic gadgets have really taken people out of the world, to the point where reality just seems to be a thing that is ignored. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I’ve been on a few trains where it felt like walking into a den of zombies, like there were people there, but they weren’t there.

I can’t help but wonder what we collectively are doing to our brains. If these games and devices are putting people into a state of altered consciousness, hyper-focus, or whatever, does that mean they are more suggestible than they normally would be, and if so, what information, exactly, are they absorbing in that state?

Maybe I’m worrying about nothing. That’s certainly a possibility.

At any rate, I feel it shouldn’t be up to me or anyone else to watch out for the well-being of someone who’s playing a game, and I’m considering what, if anything, can or should be done?

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