My friend, we’ll refer to her as “Pam” because that’s her name, recently put up a post about Pokemon Go players disrespecting certain places such as cemeteries and private properties when they play their game. She rightly pointed out that it is inappropriate to chase after virtual monsters in a solemn place or on another person’s property without permission. As someone with a little knowledge of how the game was constructed, I decided to share a little bit of insight.
Niantic had (has) another game called Ingress as well as a neat “personal tour” app called Field Trip. Both of these are also location based and have been around for a few years. Why does this matter? Because Google used the data from Ingress to find interesting places that were friendly to walking (opposed to driving).
Ingress began by mapping all fire stations, libraries and post offices and placing a game spot (portal) on each one. Then, gradually, more portals were added to the game through a laborious user submission process. Eventually, the Ingress app added an easy way to submit any location in seconds from your phone. And the portals blew up! Many of them interesting, some of them inappropriate for game play.
Here’s the connection: Pokemon Go used the data from Ingress to place their game spots. I think they’re called “gyms” in Pokemon Go. Niantic should have trimmed their list of game locations better. Much better. A lot of the garbage portals in Ingress have been removed, but not all. Ingress attracts players who are typically in their 20’s and older. Pokemon Go attracts more children. There are exceptions to both of these age group generalizations.
1. Children are more likely to play their game on someone’s yard or burial site than adults.
2. There are MANY more people playing Pokemon than Ingress could have imagined.
That is why a lot of the problems are happening. The game developers didn’t do more to clean up the game locations and the players are not being respectful of others as they play. So Niantic is responsible for causing part of the problem and responsible for exposing the other part of the problem. Fix either one and the problems would dissipate into occasional annoyances. Changing the game locations is the easier fix. Changing a culture that sends out children who don’t know about certain societal norms of decency or private property without adult supervision is a tougher solution.