Recently a popular smartphone app has been making headlines all across the world. The app is called Pokémon Go, a smartphone game that bases itself off of Nintendo’s long running franchise Pokémon. The franchise itself involves both a television show and video game series where a “Pokémon Trainer” travels the world collecting cartoonish and cutesy monsters known as “Pokémon.” The smartphone app is game intended to simulate this experience through “augmented reality,” meaning that the creatures will appear on phone screen using the camera, though not in real life. The app has gained immense popularity and its worldwide release has been incredibly well-received. The game is played using the player’s GPS unit in their phone, which will then populate their surroundings with Pokémon. Players will follow their map towards the Pokémon and then engage in a brief timing based mini-game to catch the Pokémon. This, of course, demands a lot of time for players to be looking down at their screens, and not paying attention to the world around them.
Liability And Pokémon Go
Something many people do not think about when it comes to these games is the fact that they oftentimes interfere with the player’s ability to associate with reality. Searching for Pokémon on a person’s map, or trying to catch one while playing the mini-game can leave people standing somewhere, entirely unaware of their surroundings. A recent post on the popular gaming and tech news site Geekwire has highlighted this. In fact, the post itself shows that there have already been incidents involving accidents and injuries that have happened while players have been engaging with the game instead of the real world.
Niantic, the developing company behind the game has already taken some steps to limit their liability in these cases. First, the app begins with a warning to remind players to “be alert” at all times and to “stay aware” of their surroundings. A recent update has now put forward a variety of warnings and requires players to push the “OK” button on their screen to acknowledge that they have read the warnings.
What these warnings don’t do for Niantic, however, is absolve them of all potential harm. The company has created a game that requires players to be active and mobile in the world while simultaneously devoting their attention to what is going on with their phone. Diverting one’s attention between two things is not always possible, especially if the players are typically of a younger age.
However, the article expresses some concern for the fact that this may not be enough to both warn the average player, and to protect Niantic from liability. Pokémon Go is now a worldwide phenomenon. While some states have specific doctrines to be applied that can protect defendants to a degree, it is likely only a matter of time before Niantic faces a lawsuit for their potentially deadly distraction.