Some people say the zombie apocalypse is upon us. Hordes of people are moving as though in a trance. Their heads are down, and some are barely aware of their surroundings.
On any given night, scores of people mill around St. Albert Place. Others stop and go at many other public landmarks throughout the area.
Eyes are trained on their smartphones, which appear to drag them like magnets to the next spot. The people on their smartphones are looking for virtual creatures in Pokemon Go, a mobile gaming app that has exploded in popularity since it became available in Canada July 17. It has become a worldwide craze.
After downloading the free app, players use features on their phones like GPS and cameras to catch virtual creatures that appear on the map generated on their phone that show locations in the real world. Players catch Pokeballs that are needed to catch monsters found at pokestops. Players use the creatures they catch to fight other game players at virtual gyms to advance in the game.
Now all this may sound like innocent fun and an improvement over gaming that once kept people holed up alone in their basements. After all, Pokemon Go is getting people out moving. Some Pokemongers report that they have travelled more than 20 kilometres a day in pursuit of their digital prey, a healthy change from gamers who lounge on the couch all day.
There is also a social aspect to the game since players often congregate in real time in physical space, making friends with people with similar interests.
So what could be wrong with this, beyond the amount of time spent on a game?
The dark side of the game is the safety hazards it presents or encourages.
Players often stare at the maps on their phones to draw them to the next spot, without being aware of the hazards in front of them. Since they are required to move while they play to advance in the game some players are staring at their phones while they are walking, skateboarding, or biking. There have been reports of players who have been hit by cars because they have walked into traffic.
There are cases of distracted drivers who play Pokemon Go while driving. In one case police report a driver was rear-ended by another driver while both drivers were playing Pokemon Go.
Young people have been drawn to go out alone at night to sites in dark alleys, or deserted construction sites where they would not otherwise venture. Criminal elements have also staked out known Pokemon Go sites for nefarious purposes including robbery and sexual assault.
So let people collect their super-powered virtual creatures to trade and do battle with. But perhaps we need designated drivers for Pokemon players and designated spotters to spot the hazards in front of players who are travelling on foot. Pokemon Go players should travel in groups and check for hazards for themselves and others.
Parents, do you know where your children and their smartphones are tonight?