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Augmented Reality and Actual Risk

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Games like Pokémon Go present real world challenges and opportunities for districts and they aren’t going away.

 
If you’ve visited a neighborhood park lately, chances are you’ve seen people playing Pokémon Go. Since its release in July, the augmented-reality game has become a worldwide phenomenon. Utilizing the GPS and camera on a phone, “pocket monsters” appear in real-time in the surrounding environment beckoning you to capture them. The game also designates real-world locations as points of interest, either as “PokéStops” or Pokémon Gyms. These points of interest are essential to progressing through the game, so many parks and other public spaces have been attracting more visitors, particularly young people.

However, there are concerns with this popular pastime. Several news articles have appeared detailing a variety of Pokémon-related accidents, prompting the company to include in-game messages warning users to avoid driving while playing, exercise awareness of their surroundings, and not to trespass onto private property.

Owners and managers of some venues have reported players loitering after hours, and in some rarer cases, vandalism. Also, some sensitive areas such as cemeteries and memorials have been inadvertently set as in-game destinations, prompting calls for bans of the game. In Colorado’s Weld County, sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a young player threatening physical altercation as well as breaking and entering a private home.1

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Despite the commotion in the media, instances like those have been rare, so some business owners have opted in on the craze, recognizing the potential revenue in embracing the game and its many fans. Indiana’s states parks have welcomed Pokémon Go players, giving gentle reminders
in their event descriptions about the dangers of walking off-trail; potential hazards such as poison ivy, wild animals, and road traffic; and the observation of park hours.2

The National Mall in Washington has launched ranger-led Pokémon hunts in order to educate participants about the national park.3 Some local businesses have gone so far as to offer charging stations for players’ mobile devices, or even offering discounts for members of specific Pokémon Go teams. A number of establishments actually play the game solely for commercial reasons, setting up “lures” to attract more Pokémon and in turn more customers.

So, how can your district benefit from this mobile app while recognizing the inherent issues that may arise?

Consider the following: given that spaces such as parks and recreational centers have received an increase of visitors, it may be prudent to update or create additional signs that clearly delineate entries and exits, public facilities such as restrooms, business hours, and off limits areas. This sort of preventative measure encourages responsible play and Pokémon aside, in the age of texting-while-walking and similar behaviors, this is a good idea in general.

We also recommend educating yourself on the game. While you don’t need to download the app itself, a better understanding of its mechanics can proffer many opportunities. For example, if one of your parks is a PokéStop or Gym, you can sponsor Pokémon-related events to encourage patronage.

This could be a good way to drum up attendance at a park, fire, or library district event. Even without active promotion, the staff at Foothills Park and Recreation District in Colorado has witnessed an increased amount of patrons coming to the park and visiting different spots not normally frequented by the public. Educating district officials about the game can also prove useful in ensuring constructive discussions on game-related risk management.

The underlying data Niantic used in this game wasn’t created specifically for it, nor was it created for Ingress, a nearly identical game they released much earlier. Niantic simply licensed publicly available databases of points of interest, landmarks, and public spaces from numerous registries. This is how so many odd inclusions like cemeteries made it into the game.

If your district has sensitive facilities such as conservation areas, cemeteries, or heavy industrial plants marked as in-game points of interest, you can ask the developer to remove any nuisance locations. A link to that web page can be found here. Unfortunately, numerous imitator games are in development right now, and will likely rely on the same databases used for Ingress and Pokémon Go.

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Since these are from different companies, it is likely that anything you tell Niantic will not carry over to their competition, so the best thing you can do is post appropriate signage and manage your grounds responsibly.

Here are some game-related policies to consider. Keep in mind that the litigation surrounding augmented-reality games is still emerging.

Trespassing: Introduce a clause in your trespassing policy to include people entering restricted areas or remaining beyond hours of public accommodation.

Obstruction: The nature of the game may occasionally compel a player to obstruct a walkway, potentially posing a minor risk to other pedestrians, visitors, and passersby.

Special events: Several parks have set the precedent for requiring special permits of Pokémon players intending to use their venues. If this is an approach your district is willing to explore, be sure to point out that the district has the right to deny the issuance of a permit at its own discretion.

Sources:
1- http://www.greeleytribune.com/news/local/22941640-113/pok%C3%A9mon-Go-craze-hits-greeley-creates-only-a?
2- http://www.in.Gov/activecalendar_dnr/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=10610&information_id=22918&type=&syndicate=syndicate
3- http://www.wsj.com/articles/pokemon-go-gives-boost-tonational-
parks-1468447301

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