Is Pikachu Killing Our Kids?

Pokémon GO is a location-based game that took the world by storm in summer 2016. The game feeds off the huge success and popularity of the original Pokémon brand which gripped 90s kids with its anime TV show and trading card game. The game is essentially a high-tech scavenger hunt where players traverse their local area looking to capture fictitious creatures.

Despite all the good press the phenomenon has received, game developer Niantic has been criticised due to players accessing the game in sensitive, prohibited and even dangerous locations: causing public offence or leading to injuries and sometimes death. Should Niantic be held accountable for the actions of these players? Or should Pokémon GO users take responsibility for their own recklessness?

Ban the Game: PokéGONE!

Sensitive Locations

Pokémon Go has been at the centre of many controversies since its release; some Pokéstops (meeting places for players), have been placed in sensitive locations such as cemeteries, the Hiroshima peace memorial site, and even in Auschwitz. Niantic’s placement of these meeting points is highly disrespectful and is seen as an infringement on a mourner’s right to privacy. How would you feel if someone was trying to catch a Pokémon whilst you were trying to mourn a loved one?

Pokémon NO GO!

There have also been incidents of players trespassing on private property, which invokes legal issues in addition to raising questions of the players’ integrity. This has culminated in a court case in which land owners are now attempting to sue Niantic for a “flagrant disregard” for the way their game affects real world people and places.

The issue of trespassing causes harm and upset to landowners and members of the public who are not associated with the game, despite their lack of conscious involvement. It can be argued that such individuals should be fully considered and not neglected at the expense of the players, who could reasonably play elsewhere if the game’s mechanism didn’t encourage trespassing behaviour. Here, Niantic demonstrates preference utilitarianism, as fewer individuals are adversely affected by the game in terms of these behaviours than who are benefiting from playing. This viewpoint is controversial and can be criticised, as the company is only considering their customers, and not anybody else.

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A Dangerous Game

Another consideration, perhaps the most salient, is the role that Pokémon GO developers may have played in numerous deaths and injuries suffered by players worldwide. The game can lead players to become unaware of their surroundings whilst looking at their mobile devices, and when game developers place Pokémon in unexploded Bosnian minefields and highly radioactive nuclear sites, it becomes apparent that Niantic is responsible for the unnecessary danger posed upon players. It is highly unethical to continue to provide a platform that so blatantly poses risk to the general population. To see the extent of this issue, it’s possible to track the estimated number of deaths and injuries associated with Pokémon GO here.

Kant’s deontological approach, applied here would suggest that despite Niantic’s initial good intentions whilst developing Pokémon GO, the company now has a moral duty to take responsibility and restrict the locations in which the game can be played or accessed to avoid further harm. The harm principle could also be applied to suggest that in order to prevent individual players from causing harm to themselves and others, Niantic should completely withdraw the game from the public domain, as simply restricting the accessible locations for the game will not ensure the players’ safety. This would appear to be a rational and appropriate solution, given the life-threatening consequences of the game.

Leave Pokémon Alone!

Positive Impact

Despite its pitfalls, Pokémon GO has been praised for inspiring high levels of behavioural change amongst the millions of daily users. The game has been shown have a positive effect on the social abilities of autistic players and one study has estimated that avid Pokémon GO users have increased their daily physical activity by 25% through playing the game. In addition, many businesses are benefiting from the huge marketing potential of this digital game by placing Pokéstops in their cafés, bars and restaurants, leading to business owners experiencing increased footfall and sales.

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The ethical philosophy of utilitarianism states that every action may be good or bad, but the action is morally right if the good it brings outweighs any harm caused. So from a utilitarian perspective, the creation of Pokémon GO is morally acceptable because the number of people that have been negatively impacted by the game’s release are far outnumbered by those that have been positively affected.

Good Intentions

Due to its location-based format, Niantic dedicated immense time into “mapping” the game. At the early stages of development, Niantic formed a database of historical sites, public artworks and local businesses, whilst additional places of interest were submitted by users to be used as Pokémon locations.

Among Kantian theories, one’s action with good intention determines one’s moral worth, even though the consequences may have undesirable results. In Niantic’s case, they released the game with good intentions; the mapping was implemented to encourage users to learn about their cultural and historical surroundings. Thus the cases of trespassing, criminal intent and safety threats that resulted should not be considered as the intent of Niantic, therefore it is the player who is ultimately responsibility for their actions.

Safety Measures

Beyond this, Niantic has stressed that the algorithm for placement of Pokéstops and gyms has always prioritised pedestrian-safe zones. The generation of hotspots in hazardous or insensitive places represent a very small minority. The correction of such defects is a manual process and requires immediate reporting of issues from Pokémon GO users. Niantic has shown willingness to address any mishaps, but relies on feedback from those affected. Again showing that the players must take responsibility as Niantic has a framework in place to minimise harm.

Conclusion

Although Niantic’s game has led people to act irresponsibly, those who have been positively affected far outweigh them, be it from increased exercise and social interactions, higher business sales, or simply through having fun. To state that Niantic has a duty to regulate usage of the game is an error of judgment. Niantic has no control over how users should behave, however they can guide people towards safe usage and protection of privacy. The developer has not broken any laws with its mapping algorithms, and any action to remove insensitive markers is supererogatory. Players should take a common sense approach and play Pokémon GO with caution and mindfulness…or let the Pokémon GO for good.

Group 43: Robert Lucas, Ralph Coleman, Xiaoteng Shi, Siti Wardah Sharifpuddin

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39 thoughts on “Is Pikachu Killing Our Kids?

  1. Interesting. I think Niantic have done more good than bad with the app but should realise that they now have a moral responsibility to urge their users to engage appropriately with the public. The title suggests that you are anti-PokemonGo but your conclusion gives off a pretty pro-PokemonGo vibe.

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  2. What’s next is that real animals will be used as Pokemon, kept in a small confined space (poke balls) as it will become a social norm. Imagine going to the local park and two children are making their pigeon (pidgey) and cat (meowth, “that’s right”) fight until one of them needs to go to hospital or worse. So to answer your question “Is pikachu killing our kids?” Yes, but one day our kids will be killing an animal they perceive to be pikachu….

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    1. Interesting that you considered the ethics of treating the Pokemon as animals! Who do you think is responsible for the welfare of the players?

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  3. Fun topic! I agree with the point that Niantic definitely has the responsibilities to control the potential risks for everyone who may involved in its game. Just like the example mentioned in the article, I can’t imagine that someone walk into your private land and announce that they are just searching for Pokémon. I know it is hard to restrict all the players’ behavior, but at least some places like nuclear reactor (really?) should be banned from the game map, isn’t it?

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    1. Yes I do agree with the fact that a lot of locations aren’t suitable for playing these games, glad you agree with the outcome of the blog

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    2. Yes, those places definitely need to be filtered. However, these require lots of attention from user themselves!

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  4. Although I’d agree that Niantic were careless in their inclusion of private property and inappropriate locations, such as Auschwitz, on the game map, I would still maintain that the integrity of the players is what’s at fault when it comes to public offence, danger or issues of trespassing. Inidividuals without adequate social and safety prowess are automatically at risk, through no fault of the game itself. It could therefore be suggested that, along with revisions to the map, Niantic introduce an age limit of around 16 to protect the younger generation from the apparent ‘dangers’, although whether that would successfully limit their access to the game would be another issue.

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    1. Imposing the age limit isn’t something we originally considered, it certainly would be a good way of keeping the younger generation safe who perhaps didn’t know better. Thanks Katie

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  5. I think that Pokémon GO has definitely demonstrated benefits as you have outlined, some of which can be very tricky to do in this age, e.g. going outside, especially with a lot of technology drawing us inside – so kudos to Niantic for pulling people outside WITH technology!

    In relation to trespassing and being disrespectful at heritage sites, Niantic is really not the one to blame. Recent happenings at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin have shown that people can be disrespectful at sensitive sites regardless of what draws them there, Maybe people are using Pokémon GO as an excuse, but maybe they should instead realise where it has taken them, put their phones away and appreciate where they are.

    Maybe Niantic should add a disclaimer like alcohol adverts – “GO responsibly”

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    1. Thanks for your reply Katie, perhaps the disclaimer could flash up now and again? It is easy for users to become immersed in the game and forget where they are, hence the number of incidents this game causes. 

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  6. The numerous positives and negatives outlined in this article demonstrate the power with which Pokemon Go has influenced people’s lives. Given that much of the technology and video games of today foster an unsociable existance, Pokemon Go, should be considered a breath of fresh air in the gaming community. By allowing children (and older generations) to go outside and explore their natural surroundings whilst playing a game, as opposed to staying indoors and avoiding social interaction, Pokemon Go has been able to buck the trend of the gaming apps of today. Whilst more caution should have been taken with regards to safety advice and playable locations, the good nature of the game and the benefits it has provided for autistic children in particular should herald it as a success story in a world where more and more children don’t leave their rooms. All in all people should know to take caution with there surroundings so Pokemon Go shouldn’t revive the brunt of the blame for certain consequences.

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    1. Thanks for your opinion Tom. Yes it is sad to see children spend their cherished childhood on a small screen. We woud believe Niantac came out PokenmonGo some various of good inititives. Hopeful, the continurous intergating of the game would encourage more health outdoor activites.

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  7. Really enjoyable article! I think that concluding that Niantic has no duty to control how it’s users use the software is a dangerous precedent to set. Does Facebook have a duty to shut down terrorist pages forming on their website? Many would say that they do. My Mrs for one!

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    1. Thanks for the comment Dave. It is certainly difficult to control how people use software, it is an interesting dilemma. I would have to agree with your Mrs., it will be beneficial for the greater good, a utilitarian approach.

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  8. There are a number of substantial benefits and potential complications arising in relation to Pokémon GO which are very well explored in this article. It is my understanding that the positive effects of the game are considerable enough to warrant the view that Pokémon GO should continue and indeed should be encouraged in the public domain. What remains is essentially a question of balance between the constructive impact it may prefer, and the app’s admittedly problematic side effects. While it is appreciated that the hazardous and insensitive locations of certain Pokestops are few and far between, it may be said that Niantic are capable of implementing further measures to strike the correct balance in this respect. As your article effectively demonstrates, any alterations rely on feedback from players as a way to bring to light any defects in mapping, a process which is admittedly commendable. I do not consider it unreasonable however, to suggest that Niantic should have a responsibility for playing an active role in seeking out such problems, rather than relying solely on the passive construction of their current policy. Service providers ultimately owe a duty of care to their consumers and positive steps are required to recognise this. After all, Niantic were the author of such hazards in the first instance.

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    1. Thanks for your opinion James. Yea, obviously I agreee that Niantac has the initiative to influence their users and give enough saftey guidance and notices at very begining and through out the game.

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  9. Ninkasi big good game make. No walk fat die quick. Not YOLO. Think we try hard make good game Ninkasi make better everytime. Thank for article learn lots. Better if say Pokemon Go to easy I complete 3 days.

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  10. Very enjoyable article. ‘Somebody else told me to do it’ didn’t work as an excuse before, so I don’t see why we should blame just a game for deaths! Rubbish game anyway. ‘Killing our kids’? More like ‘killing our kids with boredom’. Ha! Pokemon Go ruins a good walk!! I prefer to play bowls on the weekend. Ninkasi could make a new game about bowls.
    Anyway, thanks and goodnight.

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    1. Thanks for your comment J. I’m sure your not alone in not enjoying the game. If the bowls game encouraged you to play in extreme places would you do it? Imagine a case where you become addicted to the game and have to play bowls in cemeteries, would you consider this ethical?

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  11. If all these issues were solely caused by the game then many more of these problems would of been broadcasted through various sources of media, the fact that a few people had negatively been affected by the game is purely because of them being oblivious of there surroundings or due to the fact they have moronic tendencies. The game includes warnings within it to try and discourage such tendencies but sadly some people are simply to engrossed in there thirst to catch all of the Pokemon that they seem to behave in a way which can be dangerous towards themselves.

    The game itself brought a completely new perspective of what technology can do in a gaming environment. I don’t believe that a few stupid acts of ignorant gamers should damage the reputation of such a innovative game.

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    1. Thanks Harry, I would tend to agree with you. However it is difficult to consider other people when engrossed in a game, I think ultimately Niantic should do a little bit more to prevent these ignorant acts, but yes, it should not ruin the fun for other gamers

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  12. An interesting read. I think people need to be more responsible for their own actions. Parents are always very quick to blame video games on their children’s misbehaviour, but they have an obligation to be aware of what their children are playing. I remember there being uproar about children playing Grand Theft Auto and watching Tarentino films. The producers response was that their games/films were rated 18 and weren’t suitable for children. The parents response was that of course they were going to see it. What a cop out. Parents seem to place blame on the video games because it’s easy to deny that their children’s misbehaviour is their own fault. Pokemon Go seems to be becoming another scapegoat.

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    1. Hi Guy. Thanks for your comment. Under the fast spreading pace of social media, PokemonGO’s popularity is boosted! It is interesting to see your opinion from a parent’s point of view. Parenets nowadays should definitely spending more time with their children rather than just simplying buying them an iphone 7!

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  13. A thoughtless error on Niantic’s part but not one to blame for others’ misfortune. Any incorporation of the outdoors into online gaming should be encouraged and not stomped out when mistakes are made. Make more of the same! But this time with these problems addressed.

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  14. Great read, nice summary of how utilitarian and deontological perspectives can provide a forward thinking view of how the app could improve its use, ethics, safety and even and popularity. Pragmatically however, maybe they should only remove very ethically sensitive areas, after all it would be impractical to register every piece of private land. Besides kids are always going to be getting into trouble climbing in to Farmer Tedds private fields or the local abandoned warehouse anyway, Pokemon Go or not.

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    1. Hi Harry. Thanks for your comments. Maybe the farmer should learn how to use pokenmon go and report their private land not to be on the map rather than shouting at kids also?

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  15. It would be almost impossible for Niantic to police every single sensitive and ‘dangerous’ location placed within the game. Positioning of these locations are mostly based upon user inputted data, the rest will be automated, its up to the users of the app to report any discrepancies. For example, how are Niantic supposed to know if an area is considered to be ‘dangerous’? There aren’t enough developers in the world to cover all of those locations!

    If all of the users came together these types of locations could easily be eradicated from the game. What PokemonGo needs is a collective effort from the community to protect its own.

    No game or ‘fad’ comes without its pitfalls. I can remember pokemon cards being banned in schools because of older children ‘conning’ younger children out of their ‘good’ cards. PokemonGO is no exception and will never be perfect, despite the best efforts of Niantic. However if the positives, of users being increasingly active and social, outweigh the negatives of minor trespassing and insensitivities, then the ends justify the means… right?

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  16. Being the first of its kind, Pokémon GO was bound to have it’s pitfalls. However, as the article states, I do agree that it certainly has more benefits in such a technologically driven age for children to be growing up in, one that often restricts ‘the great outdoors.’
    I do not believe that Niantic can be held responsible for irresponsible misuse of the game.
    In saying this, I would suggest that the inclusion of ‘sensitive’ locations is unethical and simply unnecessary.
    A very interesting and thought-provoking read!

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    1. Yea I agree with you. As mentioned in arctile the generation of these sensitive location is based on algorithm. However, the complete “cleaning” of these spots may introduce a massive bill for manual cost!

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  17. Having never played PokemanGo I am not ideally placed to comment on the gameplay functioning. However, I am sceptical of the game from a societal perspective. I believe that there are better ways to be active, to be outside and to be socially active. Supporting these types of platforms seems to be reinforcing our society’s ever increasing dependency on digital software. I am not a Luddite and I appreciate the huge benefits offered by technology, but I feel that young people should be encouraged to avoid excessive screen gazing as much as possible.

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  18. The whole concept is good but as with all such pioneering ideas the law of unintended consequences prevails and misfortune or abuse will happen. Encouraging active outdoor pursuits is to be applauded especially in the light of obesity and compulsion or addiction to indoor screening etc. Learning from mistakes or improving is always good practice to make for better and more palatable outcomes in the future.

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  19. I think this article outlines some really interesting perspectives on Pokemon Go. There really is no definitive answer for whether it is a good or a bad thing. Whilst it is clear Niantic have caused many issues with their game ‘Pokemon Go!’ by putting game players on situations of potential danger and also disrespecting private property and sensitive locations, I do think that people themselves have the personal common sense and knowledge to know when something is ‘out of bounds’ – but I do understand that maybe game players might not have been in this situation and known it was wrong if the game was pointing them in this direction. However, I think it is clear that Niantic have also shown many benefits to society with this game such as encouraging exercise, social engagement and better attractions to historic and cultural landmarks. It may just be the case that with regards to the location of ‘pokestops’ in this game, that maybe Niantic needed to take a broader look at who else this was affecting apart from those who play the game? It’s hard to say.

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  20. A really nice read with a good balance of both the good and dark sides of Pokemon Go! It does seem that in many cases it is the users that should be more careful in how they interact with the game. I do think Niantic should at least take the initiative to remove particularly sensitive or dangerous locations though (hospitals, religious sites, minefields?!).

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  21. The initial success of Pokemon Go was phenomenal, with parks full of game players trying to catch Pokemon and also battle against others. The app certainly increased the number of people heading outside, and taking longer walks in order to become more successful on the game. In the short term it definitely provided a solution to the problem of too many young people staying indoors glued to their game consoles; however, now the initial hype of the game has died down, I wonder how many users still play this game and still take regular exercise because of it.

    I do agree that more sensitivity should have been placed upon the positioning of Pokestops etc. but I also think that players should exercise common sense during game play. Additionally, I do not see how Pokemon Go differs that much from a non-technological game e.g. hide and seek; I personally would not play a game of hide and seek in Auschwtitz, similarly, I would not start playing Pokemon Go, there out of respect. There is a time and a place to play games, and people should know when to respect their surroundings.

    Furthermore, the loading screen of the app asks users to be careful when playing, in my view there is only so much Niantic can to do to stop people from coming to harm. As we step into the new era of VR, these types of problems will continue to arise. For example, wearing a VR headset would instantly put you at more risk of harm as you cannot see where you are moving in the real world; however common sense would tell you to be more careful, and to clear the room of hazards before you put on the headset.

    All in all, a great thought-provoking article!

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    1. Very in depth comment Beth, thanks for sharing with us. Yea, it is indeed that the user group size is significantly influenced by social media. The issue of PokemonGo has led to a larger moral issue of new born technology. Niantac is a beginning and hopefully these will teach people more!

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  22. Niantic have released a game which has changed the gaming community, yet questions remain over whether that is for that better, or worse.

    It has created a clear ethical dilemma. as the article highlights, people have been reported walking through cemeteries, and other sensitive public places such as Auschwitz. The motivation people experience to complete the game leads to them sacrificing their ethics in order to catch these Pokemon. Whilst they have not broken the law, Niantic has a responsibility as the game developer to consider the general ethical code of conduct in not creating these dilemmas for people who are playing the game. Using historical places, such as Auschwitz, in the game has led to people going there for the wrong reasons. While it could be argued that people are experiencing more of the world through this platform, they are not actually engaging with these surroundings as they are so focused on the game.

    As well as these ethical issues, Pokemon Go has led to people putting themselves and others in harms way. To focus on a positive aspect, the game has resulted in the players leaving their house and getting exercise as they walk between Pokestops catching Pokemon. However, this has not always been conducted in a safe manner. People have been walking with their heads down looking at their phones and have had many near misses with cars and other pedestrians. I have even seen someone walking their dog whilst playing the game, and ended up getting the dog caught up in a lamp post causing the dog to choke. Niantic did add a safety warning to the loading screen of the game warning people to be aware of their surroundings, however perhaps more should have been done in order to accomplish this. As a game developer, they have not neglected the safety of their users completely; the people playing the game do also need to be responsible and play the game safely.

    Fundamentally, when developing the game certain ethical issues were ignored and thus duly causing negative connotations for the game and it’s users, especially surrounding the locations of Pokestops in such sensitive locations. Some places are not made for playing games!

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    1. Thanks Cath, I do hope that the dog is ok! I agree that the game has a largely positive impact but Niantic should do more to encourage the players to behave in a safe manner.

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  23. Great blog, I think that the key to this is moderation, although it may be tempting to trespass land to catch a nearby Pokémon that you don’t have, it is up to the user to abide by the law – even if this means missing out on a nearby charizard. Similarly the threats of roaming dangerous areas should also be taken into consideration by the user, the game does not control reality and so niantic shouldnt be blamed for any thing that may happen to a user.

    In contract niantic should be aware of these incidents and should make an effort to alert users of such incidents and warn players of the potential dangers that may occur when playing this game. Niantic should try to minimise such incidents by revising the game mechanics. Putting rare Pokemon in moumtainess regions for example may lead to accidents that could be avoided, instead they should put Pokémon in populous area I.e. Near homes, roads and shops.

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