Pokémon GO and relearning community safety

Teach us how to negotiate the streets and danger by teaching us every community safety trick you know and having done this, when and how to risk it all for the sake of love.

– Marcus Curnow, Seeds Covenant

Last week Niantic released the new Pokémon game Pokémon GO. I downloaded it the morning after it became available in Japan, Australia and Aotearoa/NZ. I found it was fairly glitchy – it crashed a lot, had trouble connecting with the server or getting a GPS signal. I found this  kind of comforting because some of the issues are a little bit similar to issues we’ve had while testing a similar (but much smaller) project I’ve been working on. There seem to be still a few issues connecting to the server, which is understandable when an app that has been out less than a week already has almost as many users as Twitter – so it’s a good problem for the developers to have!


What I’ve been most interested in has been the way the game has brought people into public space. To find and catch Pokémon you need to get outside and walk around. Different kinds of Pokémon are found in each area, so to find some Pokémon you’ll need to venture further and explore unfamiliar areas. (For some reason in Carlton North there seem to be a lot of water creatures, which I don’t get, but there you go.) Specific landmarks (like murals or historical buildings) are marked as places where you can pick up items that you use in the game or battle other players – so if you head to one of these spots you might run into other players in real space.


On Thursday, when I installed the app, I was working from the State Library, and when I went outside at 5:30pm to grab a halal snack pack for dinner I saw that the grounds out the front of the library were scattered with people playing the game and chatting together. When I was there again this afternoon there was a similar scene, except it was now more like a crowd. Considering that some of the consistent concerns about digital gaming has been that players don’t get outside, don’t get exercise, don’t have interpersonal skills, this seems like a good development.

I’ve noticed that there have already been a few stories of people being mugged or sustaining injuries while playing Pokémon GO. I guess going out and walking around your neighbourhood is always going to be a little bit risky. If many of us have been alienated from the skills and instincts that help keep us safe we might need to need to relearn those community safety tricks.

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