Caption: Pokemon visitations at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Pokémon Go, a free smartphone game already downloaded 15 million times since its release on July 6, has a lot of people scouring the real world for battling creatures who up to this point have only inhabited the world of fantasy. And more than a few gamers have earned real-world battle scars of their own.
The Pokémon Go app allows smartphone users to find, catch and train the monsters—with names like Bulbasaur, Charmander, and the best-known, Pikachu. Where are the monsters? They’re everywhere. They pop up on your smartphone screen as you walk about, superimposed on a stylized map of the real world.
The game is incredibly involving—so involving that players are walking off curbs or into telephone poles (or worse) because they’re more focused on their smartphone screens than their surroundings. Reports of injuries, some serious, abound on social media and in the press—including a report of two men who fell off a cliff in California.
On the other hand, all of that monster hunting also seems to be inspiring a lot of physical activity—which can be a very good thing.
Before you or your own little monster fires up the smartphone in search of Jigglypuff, here’s some advice from Robert Czincila, DO, director of Emergency Medicine at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery:
Pay attention to your surroundings. “While we have not had any patients with injuries related to this app, certainly the same thoughts that apply to texting while walking, biking, and so on, would apply,” says Dr. Czincila. “Be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to streets, intersections, traffic. Use caution around water and parks with elevated areas.”
Go about your Pokémon hunt with another person or a group. Someone else will be looking out for that fire hydrant or brick wall even if you aren’t. “Group activity is always safer,” says Dr. Czincila.
Don’t play Pokémon Go and drive. It should be obvious, but you don’t have to search hard on social media to find pictures of smartphones propped up on steering wheels. Walking while using the app might put only the user at risk, says Dr. Czincila, but “operating a motor vehicle and using it puts many people, including other drivers and pedestrians, at risk. For less experienced drivers, this poses a big problem as well—not that we want anyone driving distracted. Absolutely no use of the game, texting or any other application should occur while operating a vehicle.” (Here's an example of what can happen when you Pokémon and drive.)
Don’t overdo it. Walking is a great activity, but remember—you have to walk back home. Players have been known to walk for miles in quest of the little varmints, without realizing how far they’d gone. “Certainly we advocate exercise but recognizing limitations and not overdoing it is important,” says Dr. Czincila. “Staying hydrated and using appropriate outdoor attire and sunscreen in the summer is advised.”
Avoid remote or deserted areas. It didn’t take very long for some bad characters to figure out how to capitalize on players’ distractedness. “There have been some nefarious individuals capitalizing on luring folks into dangerous areas and robbing them,” says Dr. Czincila.