It was July 2016 and two smartphone gamers were out enjoying the latest sensation, Pokemon Go. By the time the day was over, the two North San Diego residents were being transported to the hospital with injuries that came as a result of them booth falling over a cliff and onto the rock below. Why did they fall over a cliff? Both of the 20-something-year-olds were watching their smartphone screens and not paying attention to reality.
Within a day of the two North San Diego men falling over a cliff, a young man in Auburn, New York crashed his car into a tree. Why did he crash his car into a tree? Because he was driving while playing Pokemon Go and was not watching the road in front of him. All three of these young men survived their incidents, but others have not been so lucky.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Pokemon Go is a new type of game app referred to as augmented reality. The idea is that the game takes your real surroundings and then adds in gameplay that allows you to capture Pokemon characters. But the problem is that the reality you are looking at is a picture from a service such as Google maps, and it is not actually what is going on right in front of you. You could be chasing a Pokemon in the dead of night, but following a picture that was taken in broad daylight.
Augmented reality games are extremely popular. When Pokemon Go was first released, it became one of the fastest games ever to get 100,000 downloads. With millions of people playing the game all over the world, the stories of injuries and other issues are starting to roll in.
The Dangers Of Playing Pokemon Go
Aside from walking off of cliffs and smashing cars into trees, there are other dangers associated with playing these types of games. According to USA Today, gangs of criminals are using Pokemon Go to lure people to spots in parks and other areas, and then attacking the game players with knives or other weapons.
Pokemon Go has the ability to create Poke-Stops, which players can use as places to train their Pokemon characters to win battles. But some of the early Poke-Stops were in cemeteries, abandoned buildings, or on narrow hiking paths. Players assume that if the locations are included in the game, then they must be safe. Unfortunately, many players are finding this to not be the case.
Pokemon Go players have also been found crossing into private property, which is considered trespassing in some states and is illegal. Players have been found exploring the bushes outside of police stations in the middle of the night, and still, other players have been found trespassing on industrial property just to catch their favorite Pokemon characters.
Are Personal Injury Claims Possible?
The developer of Pokemon Go, Niantic, has avoided personal injury lawsuits to this point. However, it has been indicated that Niantic could find itself in court in several states if gamers continue to injure themselves and others.
Niantic is careful to include a series of pop-up warnings that players must click on before they can play the game. In addition, there is also a very detailed mention of gameplay safety in the terms and conditions of the game. For many years now, gamers have conditioned themselves to click past the terms and conditions just to get right to the game. If a gamer gets hurt while playing Pokemon Go and clicked past the terms and conditions, then they could find that their lack of attention to detail could cost them.
Most states would allow the terms and conditions to be used as a defense in a personal injury lawsuit since those terms and conditions must be read before the game can be played. But in some states, such as Indiana and Nevada, the terms and conditions from Pokemon Go are not comprehensive enough. In these states, the game must warn players that they could walk into an injury or drive into a tree to truly relieve Niantic of any liability. Since the terms and conditions are vague as to exactly how the game can be dangerous, Niantic could be looking at
personal injury lawsuits in those states.
Criminal Situations Gamers Face
Perhaps the biggest threat of a lawsuit for Niantic would come from the idea that Pokemon Go can be used to lure unsuspecting players into traps set by criminals. While Niantic certainly cannot be blamed for bad judgment on the part of its customers, it can be held liable if its product creates a dangerous situation for an unsuspecting player.
Niantic is also having issues with Poke-Stops appearing in abandoned and sometimes even condemned buildings. While the terms and conditions indicate that players need to exercise caution when using the app, the fact that these locations appear in the game could cause players to feel that those locations are safe. In many states, luring people to an area under the pretense that the area is safe is definitely fodder for a personal injury lawsuit.
The Field Is Growing
Niantic is a leader in augmented game app development, but it is certainly not alone. There are other very popular augmented reality games that put players in positions that could be considered dangerous. One augmented reality game surrounds the player with virtual zombies and then forces the player to run away from the zombies to escape. The idea of a person running at full speed while staring at their phone and not at what is in front of them could create a personal injury situation.
One concern from people who monitor the augmented game app world is the increase in violence surrounding these games. Games such as Life Is Crime and Real Strike deal with the virtual use of weapons and the commission of imaginary crimes. How long will it be before a gamer crosses the blurry line between reality and augmented reality and hurts themselves or others? If that happens, there is a very good chance that the developer of the game could be facing a lawsuit it cannot win.
Personal And Public Safety Need To Be Taken Into Consideration
For many legal experts who keep an eye on the growing world of technology, a personal injury lawsuit associated with an augmented reality game is only a matter of time. With the injuries piling up and the potential for these games creating mass hysteria, it is not out of the question to think that someone injured playing these games will try to find someone else to blame.
Perhaps the biggest threat to augmented reality app developers is not their own customers, but the innocent bystanders who could be getting in between a gamer and their Pokemon battle. While gamers themselves are having the first-hand experience with getting injured playing augmented reality games, people who are not even interested in the games are also in danger. As the apps grow in popularity, so does the feeling that a lawsuit of some sort is inevitable and that some game developer is going to have to defend their augmented reality app in a court of law. It is becoming more evident that more thought for personal and public safety needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to these types of games.