The augmented reality game Pokémon Go launched last week to immediate acclaim. Early reports of game-related problems focused on server issues as the developer, Niantic, struggled to cope with launch-related loads. A very different kind of problem has already raised its head, however. According to a police report from O’Fallon, Missouri, thieves have used Pokémon Go to target individuals for mugging.
According to the police report, the thieves used a beacon to attract individuals to a specific Pokéstop. Pokéstops are areas of interest where players can find items of interest. These are typically the best places to find Pokémon and the chances of encountering a Pokémon at a Pokéstop can be increased if a player attaches a Lure to that specific location. Presumably that’s what the muggers did, since the police refer to a “beacon” being used to gather multiple victims in a parking lot (the full police Facebook post is below):
After making an initial post, the O’Fallon PD announced it had arrested the suspects and would charge them with robbery and armed criminal action.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the game already, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game in which you attempt to capture digital creatures (Pokémon) in the real world. Pokémon tend to favor specific areas — Water-type Pokémon are available near lakes, oceans, and rivers, while buildings might have Steel-type Pokémon, and a cemetery might have Ghost, Fairy, and Dark-types. Obviously there are some practical limitations to this — Niantic (probably) isn’t going to send people scouting active volcanoes, toxic waste dumps, or power stations hunting for fire, poison, or electric Pokémon types.
Pokémon Go is built using a great deal of information from Niantic’s other AR game, Ingress. As Polygon details, Niantic used data gathered by Ingress players to determine which landmarks, buildings, and cool areas in your local environment should be used for Pokéstops and the like. Some of this information is of questionable accuracy; there have already been reports of players entering areas not intended for the public, including military installations and private property. Players earn XP through successfully capturing wild Pokémon (through a capture mini-game rather than a standard battle) — Polygon has more information on how the game mechanics work as well.
While Ingress was one of the first open-world AR titles, Pokémon Go has already exploded past Ingress at its peak player base. With new types of games come new types of issues. At Kotaku, Omar Akil wrote an essay about how playing Pokémon Go as a black man could cause problems that white players are unlikely to encounter. The idea that an augmented reality game could be used to mug people at gunpoint probably isn’t something that occurred to Niantic, but clearly someone had the idea — we’ll have to wait and see if such issues require the developer to make changes to the title or not.