Near Bailey Fountain in Grand Army Plaza on Wednesday, Kiran and Nayan Khambhla sat an arm’s length apart. Engulfed in his smartphone, Kiran’s bike rested against his legs with his helmet next to him on the ledge. On the opposite end of the stone step, Nayan hovered over his smartphone wearing a backpack and holding a water bottle for relief as temperatures approached the mid-90s.
Despite the sweltering heat and humidity, the brothers were busy back at the gym – the Pokémon Gym.
“We were walking into our house last night, and three people were talking about Pokémon Go and playing it all on our block.” Nayan, 12, said. “I was like, ‘Oh.’”
The Pokemon Go phenomenon has taken not only Nayan by surprise, but also New York and the world at large since its U.S. debut on July 6. Utilizing Google’s Map services, the augmented reality game jumped to the No. 1 downloaded app in five hours, bringing nostalgia to the millennial generation and increased physical activity to Generation Z.
But Pokemon Go masters, beware.
The fun of playing Pokemon Go can come at a cost for those who set out to catch the fictional creatures. While glued to the game, users may quickly find themselves in a world of trouble if they win a Pokemon Go battle but lose track of their surroundings. Players are cautioned about the dangers every time the app opens, but the warning has not prevented game-related car crashes, muggings, or worse: murder. The concerns have led institutions across the country to take preventative safety measures to accommodate the game and its players.
“I think it’s a really interesting period for institutions in that we’ve rarely had an app that divisive,” said Peter Wong, who serves as the supervisory park ranger for education at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. “We’ve taken a cautious approach, but I think we have to embrace the technological platform. This is what people are doing.”
The Arlington Cemetery and Holocaust Museum took steps to completely remove Pokemon and gyms from its premises. Arlington, a military cemetery, tweeted: “We do not consider playing ‘Pokemon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity.” The Holocaust Museum echoed that sentiment.
Wong says that Ellis Island has ensured the safety of its visitors by removing two Pokemon gyms from the area. (A “gym” is the virtual location where Pokemon trainers prepare Pokemon for battle). Ellis Island, however, will continue to incorporate the game in its visitor experience during popup tours, which will feature Pokemon on the route.
“It’s a better way to engage visitors,” Wong said. “It’s nice to see visitors picking up Poke balls and potions or battling and seeing the smile on their face.”
The Brooklyn Public Library has followed Ellis Island’s approach toward creating a safe, interactive environment for Pokemon trainers. Inside the library, directly to the left of the lobby, there’s an area specifically designed for kids to catch Pokemon. Librarians have posted a large pink “brag-board” in the Youth Wing. Players who are inclined to brag about their triumphs in the game can initial a sticker and use it to mark the Pokemon they’ve found. Next to the wall, kids sit together at a table to discuss game strategy or take a break after battles. Adam Leddy, communications coordinator at Brooklyn Public Library, said the game has been a welcome addition this summer.
“Some of our librarians are incorporating the game into our summer reading game board,” Leddy wrote in an email. One “challenge on the board for students 6-12 is ‘Explore – Visit a place in Brooklyn that’s new to you. Draw it here, or take a photo and show your librarian.’ Certainly the game facilitates that.”
Sharon Gonzalez is one of many who love Pokemon Go, which she played as she walked her dog around Bailey Fountain recently, explaining how her love for the game started with Nintendo GameBoy’s version as a kid. As much as she loves the game, however, Gonzalez, 24, said her quest to “Catch ‘Em All” – Pokemon’s popular tagline – won’t put her or her dog at risk. The strategy is quite simple.
“I just let the Pokemon come to me,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t go looking for them. There’s a limit with everything. I’m like ‘these people are crazy,’ but not me. It’s a game.”
Video of an absorbed Pokemon player went viral two weeks ago when he live-streamed himself walking straight into a pond. Reports of car accidents caused by the game and a player getting stuck in a tree trying to catch critters have also emerged since the game hit the smartphone app store. Dan S. (who didn’t want to use his last name) is the father to an infant and has heard the same stories. He sat and pondered at Prospect Park what he would tell his daughter, who smiled and drooled in his arms, in “12 or 13 years.”
“I think about this, the decisions that I would have to make,” Dan said. “It’s one of those things that if a lot of kids are playing it, you would sort of have to make rules about doing it. You’d almost have to have a designated walker or set a limit to only play in the park. You have to know your kid.”
Accidents continued to climb as Pokemon Go’s downloads reached 75 million, according to GameSpot. And as the game grows, so does the risk. But for Kiran Khambhla, who bobbed his head up and down from the gym session in progress on his smartphone near Bailey Fountain, the free app game is not worth the paying the price of safety. He said he has some advice for his fellow players.
“Pokemon Go can’t stop people from being dumb and not looking up and not being aware,” Kiran said. “But you just have to know and use common sense that you’re in an intersection or about to fall into a pond.… Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t be dumb.”