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What if you could use your phone as a laser gun in a city-wide game of laser tag? How much more exciting would it be if you directed your Clash Royale battle not on a screen, but on the street in front of you through your phone?
Augmented reality (AR) received a major boost in attention, as well as a much wider active consumer base, with the release of Pokemon GO in select countries this week. Even as people scramble into police stations to catch a sandshrew or simply have fun with the AR concept by positioning pokemon in humorous frames, concerns have already surfaced regarding the associated danger.
Google Glass and HoloLens stand among the more advanced AR devices in the market today. The same problem applies with both these and mobile-based AR experiences – it can become immersive to the point where it distracts people from their surroundings, leading to potentially severe consequences. With devices like Google Glass, there continues to be confusion over whether the glasses distract people – especially drivers – causing accidents. One such case is that of a woman who overshot a red light while using Google Glass to navigate, and protested being given a ticket.
In the case of Pokemon GO, the most well-known mishap involves the Darwin police station in Australia, with gamers walking into the police station, flicking pokeballs at a pokemon on their screen and then leaving, resulting in initial confusion. While the police handled this sportingly – even issuing a warning to be careful and saying “the Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere” – all potential dangers will not be so benign. What if the app requires someone to enter private property?
Leaving aside house owners, this could result in serious legal action if people enter property belonging to, say, a business or the government. This danger is not restricted specifically to Pokemon GO either, as AR games by nature direct people to locations around their vicinity as part of the experience. The only way to resolve this from the developer’s side would be to maintain a global, up-to-date information bank on what areas are off limits, and alter the gaming experience accordingly. The sheer scale of this task makes it very difficult to accomplish by today’s standards.
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On the other hand, AR offers enormous potential as it doesn’t restrict players to one room. Already bicycles are being commandeered at record pace as people scour their neighborhood and surrounding areas. By assigning a role to famous locations in the area, and even changing the available pokemon based on the terrain, players are discovering new things about their own surroundings while enjoying the game itself. Surprisingly enough, no one has fallen into a pond or lake. Yet.
Dampening enthusiasm about the exploratory benefits of the game is the potential of meeting with a road accident, as people have already complained about cyclists almost crashing into cars or pedestrians. Even more dangerous is the fact that many have begun using cars to “speed up” the process by covering more area in less time. Hilarious tweets about having to worry about “pokemoning-and-driving” already number in the dozens, and many drivers have even posted snapshots or captured videos of them catching Pokemon while driving.
As AR steadily finds a market in new countries where the potential for accidents or casualties could be worse – such as India and its traffic – calls are already arising for the need to ensure a danger-free experience. The loading screen of Pokemon GO advises caution every time the game is opened, but ultimately does little to reduce the chances of people meeting with a fiery death or broken bones in their quest to catch them all.