The Danger of Augmented Reality, as Demonstrated by Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go encourages players to explore and traverse their surroundings in an attempt to catch virtual creatures. Since the game launched, players have demonstrated “highly distracted behavior” that has led to accidents and injury.

“Pokémon Go is pervasive and takes users out into the physical world,” says School of Interactive Art and Technology (SIAT) professor Carman Neustaedter. “By interacting with real-world locations, it feels like you’re much more immersed in the game itself.”

Neustaedter, who researches human-computer interaction and mobile technology design, draws similarities between Pokémon Go and geocaching, where people use GPS coordinates to find hidden caches.

“We found in our research that people get a sense that they can do more and that they have additional power because there’s a blurring of the line between what’s real life and what’s the game,” he says.

Bernhard Riecke, a SIAT professor who specializes in immersive virtual environments, says that augmented reality technology found in the game and other devices can be challenging both mentally and socially.

“People playing Pokemon Go or wearing Google Glass may be present physically but mentally they’re completely somewhere else in a completely different environment,” he says. “It’s the opposite of mindfully wandering through the woods because there’s always part of their attention that’s bound to the game.”

Riecke says that the game has an addictive potential noting that video game addiction is proposed as an potential new disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“Research on information overload and decision fatigue shows that keeping people in a state of indecision makes them more susceptible to suggestion,” he says.

Both Neustaedter and Riecke say that combining augmented reality on mobile devices with a successful franchise like Pokémon has brought augmented reality technology to a wider audience.

The Vancouver Police department called players “Zombie-like,” and there have been reports across North America of people getting injured due to not paying attention to their surroundings.

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