THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

Pokémon Go fanatics are determined to play anywhere, including Bosnian minefields and Iraqi war zones

Obsession
Messaging
Obsession
Messaging

Some Pokémon Go gamers may discount the “reality” in “augmented reality” a bit too casually. The search for fake animals in the hit game has either led them to potentially dangerous places or distracted them in situations when their attention should perhaps not be on their phone.

Minefields in Bosnia

Animation created to warn about mines in Bosnia for Pokemon GO players
“DANGER MINES” (Farma Dizajna)

The brutal war that raged across the Balkans in the 1990s left Bosnia littered with millions of mines and other unexploded ordinance. Today, around 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the country are still thought to contain live mines. For unsuspecting Pokémon hunters, this is dangerous territory.

A local anti-mine NGO warned gamers this week to stay out of known minefields (link in Bosnian), looking up from their screens to “respect all posted signs” around locations with suspected unexploded mines. The ministry of foreign affairs in nearby Hungary recently updated its advice (link in Hungarian) for travelers to Bosnia, including this warning for Pokémon Go players.

On the front lines in Iraq

pokemon-go-warzone

Louis Park, a former marine and security contractor now fighting ISIL with the Kurdish militia in northern Iraq, posted a widely shared screenshot of a Squirtle staring down the barrel of his machine gun on the front lines earlier this month. He is “only able to catch the starters” out on the edge of Kurdish-controlled territory, thanks to a poor mobile signal, he told The Verge. In the bigger cities, “they’ve got gyms and pokéstops and everything.”

Behind the wheel

On Monday (July 18), a Baltimore Police Department officer’s bodycam captured a car careening into a parked patrol car. Officers chased the car down, and the driver said “that’s what I get for playing this dumb ass game.”

T.J. Smith of the Baltimore police department held a press conference about the incident. “We’d rather people certainly be playing games than committing crime but there is a danger element that’s also associated with this,” he said. In addition to the car crash, he noted there were two robberies this week that featured Pokémon Go players robbed of their phones, in one case by an armed attacker.

Pokémon Go developer Niantic used data from an earlier augmented-reality game, Ingress, to determine the locations of Pikachu and friends. It says that it makes sure Pokémon hotspots are publicly accessible and safe for pedestrians, but also encourages players to report dangerous locations to developers.

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