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By Jim Adler July 14, 2016

Distracted driving is bad enough today due to the overuse of cellphones in cars, but now it’s gotten worse thanks to new smartphone app Pokémon Go. The mobile “augmented reality” game is No. 1 in the Apple store — and could be becoming a No. 1 menace on our roads.

Pokémon Go is a location-based real-world scavenger hunt that involves players using their mobile devices to find and snare virtual Pokémon characters by actively moving to different spots to find and collect Pokémon “monsters” and vie with other players.

The game’s “catch ‘em all” premise is derived from bug-catching, which is popular in Japan, where Pokémon began.

Players don’t find actual, physical monsters, of course. But depending on the time and place, they find them on their mobile devices as they move about — and as the monsters move around them, keyed to their GPS location. Their phone will vibrate to indicate a moving virtual Pokémon creature is near.

Pokémon Go’s real-world mobility as a game has been a plus in some ways, nudging players to interact with their environment rather than sitting alone in a room. Finally, a video game that spurs exercise! It’s also a nostalgic treat for adults who were kids when Pokémon arose two decades ago.

But moving about while playing has resulted in many players being absorbed with the game on their phone while walking or driving — and then colliding with the real world.

Pokémon Go Crash Victims

In Pennsylvania, a girl on foot crossed a busy highway while playing the game and was struck by a car. Autumn Deiseroth had injuries to her foot and her collarbone, along with bruises and cuts. She and her mother blamed the game, which had placed a sought-after Pokémon character near the busy road.

At the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she was treated, a spokesperson said that she wasn’t their first patient to be admitted after being injured while playing Pokémon Go.

Also, in Auburn, NY recently, a young driver crashed into a tree after veering off the road while playing Pokémon Go. The man, 28, narrowly escaped severe injuries, though he did suffer cuts on both legs, and his car was badly damaged.

Other players also have had crashes or have tripped and fallen while walking and focusing on the game.

Indeed, such Pokémon Go players have been unashamedly posting their cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises on social media, revealing the physical price they’ve paid for playing the free game.

Pokémon Go even has been a factor in armed robberies. In Missouri, four teens used the game to lure almost a dozen victims to secluded spots, where they were robbed. The problem: The game alerts strangers to your future location.

Also, in Wyoming a girl searching for a water Pokémon character stumbled upon a dead body in a river. But that’s not the game’s fault. That’s circumstance.

Launched in July of 2016, Pokémon Go is free for downloads on iPhone and Android devices, but it also offers in-app purchases of items related to the game, much as free game Candy Crush makes frequent sales pitches for game advantages. Pokémon Go also uses GPS mapping systems and cameras on players’ mobile devices.

First Augmented Reality Game

The “augmented reality” (AR) of Pokémon Go means that the game’s digital world interacts with the physical world — a new concept in gaming. Indeed, Pokémon Go is the first augmented reality game for the masses.

That concept was developed by Niantic Laboratories, which was part of Google until released to go its own way as an independent company, after which it aligned with Nintendo last fall.

Featuring yellow creatures first launched in Game Boy video games in 1996, Pokémon Go is the product of Japanese consortium the Pokémon Company, which includes Nintendo. (“Pokémon” is short for “Pocket Monsters.”)

Pokémon Go marks a revival of sorts for Pokémon, which had been lying relatively low for some time. Now in its 20th year, the original game has sold 200 million copies worldwide, but that was then. Now, its characters are suddenly fire-hot again.

In days, the new Pokémon Go has become a smartphone addiction, with players spending twice as much time on Pokémon Go as on Snapchat and almost as much time as on Twitter.

But the Pokémon Company’s gains are proving to be some persons’ losses, as players fail to use common sense during their absorption with the game.

Exercise Safety First

“We encourage all people playing Pokémon Go to be aware of their surroundings and to play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places,” the Pokémon Company said in a statement.

Jim Adler & Associates concurs.

Smartphone games can be fun. They can be great diversions and time-spenders, especially on a lazy summer day. So go ahead and have fun.

But keep in mind that Pokémon Go should not put a stop to safety. So use common sense, and be aware of your surroundings in terms of the consequences.

Exercise while playing a video game is great. But exercise safety first. Then you’ll be the real winner.

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