Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Pokémon Go Brings Virtual Reality to Life for Injured Players

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Jul 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

Pokémon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game, encourages people to get out and “explore” their communities while pursuing Pokémon, but players are getting more than virtual Pokémon from the game. Just weeks after its release, dozens of players have reported injuries, usually from not paying attention to what's going on outside the game.

The app is based on the 1990's Japanese game and subsequent TV show. In the game, players used cards to “capture” fictional creatures called Pokémon which then battle other captured creatures. The app taps into the player's geolocation services on their phone and shows players a map of the Pokémon creatures around them. Players can use cell phone cameras to take pictures of the Pokémon, seamlessly blending the game and reality. The app has become so addicting that players focused on the hunt forget to look up from their phones and see where they are walking.

It's become such a problem that the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has issued a warning about the dangers of ignoring your surroundings. The warning comes as a part of its “Digital Deadwalker” campaign from the academy, a movement that targets pedestrians consumed by their smartphones to look where they are walking and be more aware of their surroundings.

The app has brought the need for this awareness to a new level; in less than three weeks since opening, it has earned more than $35 million from close to 30 million followers. As scores of players head outside with eyes glued to their phones, the injury count continues to rise.

Here are the most common Pokémon Go injuries:

Sunburn—Sunburn is by far the most common injury for Pokémon players. The app motivates players to step outside and roam for Pokémon, sometimes day after day for hours at a time. If you're heading outside, remember to wear and reapply sunscreen.

Screen-burn—Cellphone screens can reflect UV light from the sun directly onto your face. If players spend hours outside holding their cellphone screens in front of them, the players can suffer skin damage and burns from the reflection.

Blisters—Studies have shown that Pokémon Go has inspired millions of people to increase their physical activity in pursuit of Pokémon creatures. Walking for hours can be physically taxing on your body. Treat the game as a sport, and wear the proper clothing and shoes to keep safe and healthy.

Sprains, fractures, and broken bones—These kinds of injuries are occurring in players that forget to stop and look up to see what's in their path. Players are getting injured by tripping over objects in their path, running into other people, or by stepping into traffic without looking. Remember to look up from your screen and know your surroundings.

Mental health—While some believe that Pokémon Go is helping many players with social anxiety or depression, others worry about the addictive, obsessive nature of the game that detaches players from their real life.

There have also been reports of players being lured into robberies. One teen in Guatemala was shot to death while using the app. Police suspect it was a phone robbery gone wrong.

The rising injury toll has called into question whether Nintendo, the game's creator, can be held liable for injuries. The company does present warnings to players, but it is too soon to tell if those will be enough.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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