Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokemon Court?

Are you one of the millions of users who downloaded the Pokémon GO app in its first week of release? Or have you spent the last few days confused by your friends' sudden stream of social media references to "PokéStops," "Poké Balls," and "Pidgeys"? For the uninitiated, Pokémon GO is an augmented-reality game, available in the US on iPhone or Android mobile devices, which encourages players to head outdoors in search of computer-generated creatures which pop up on your screen. Users catch the Pokémon by throwing a virtual ball, then engage in competitive battles with other users' Pokémon.

The game was an instant cultural phenomenon, capitalizing on nostalgia for the Pokémon cartoons of the early 2000s and the prevalence of smartphones. Almost immediately, users began to flood public spaces which have been designated as Pokémon "Gyms" (including many churches, parks, and even the White House). Despite safety warnings from municipal police departments and gamemakers, users began to drive around in search of Pokémon (hopefully as passengers). Some enterprising armed robbers used the game's location data to rob victims before being caught by police. A Wyoming teenager even discovered a dead body while collecting creatures near a river.

Many commentators began to remark on potential legal issues related to the game: negligence of players, including those behind the wheel of a car; concerns about game-players innocently engaging in what looks like "suspicious activity" to police; and questions about the collection of data by the game creators and its potential value as a target for hackers. The University of Pittsburgh's Barco Law Library blog highlights today's ABA Journal article on these and other legal issues related to Pokémon GO and other virtual reality games. Certainly, more potential issues, and potential law school exam hypotheticals, will develop as the game continues to grow in popularity.

By the way -- this adorable creature was captured yesterday on Duke Law's official Instagram.

A photo posted by Duke Law (@dukelaw) on

We're not sure how many Pokémon might be lurking in the Goodson Law Library, but we hope our users will watch their step when walking in augmented reality!