The NCSL Blog


By Leila Roberts and Nate Monga

The new smartphone game, Pokémon Go, has been available for less than a week and already has more daily users than the social media apps of Twitter, Tinder, Snapchat and Instagram.

Pokemon Go app; photo credit USA TODAYPokémon Go uses a technology called “augmented reality,” which essentially blends digital images with an individual’s real world surroundings through the phone’s camera. This allows people to “catch” Pokémon in real life, while walking down the street

Nintendo’s value has increased by $8 billion in a handful of days and thousands of enthusiasts have crowded public areas and monuments newly designated as “PokeStops”.

The sudden and dramatic popularity of the game prompted people to ponder the potential public impacts of augmented reality, a new- and still-developing technology.

Due to this unexpected and significant change in the behavior of many of people, public officials have started thinking about how they might make reality more compatible with augmentation.

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of New York said he already is “concerned” that this novel activity may present a risk to public safety, and this may be just the beginning of a new wave of technology. Illinois Representative Kelly Cassidy is hosting a Pokemon Go meetup on Saturday.

It remains to be seen whether these safety concerns have been effectively foreseen by game developers, but if not it may fall on lawmakers to adapt. As more people start using augmented reality technology, society will likely have to experiment and learn how to keep people safe in this new reality.

This game has brought players into a physical world that is not designed for playing games and raised concerns regarding player and non-player privacy, as well as players becoming public nuisances at landmarks, trespassing, driving while distracted, and sometimes falling into criminal traps. And there is a privacy concern. At no point in the history of the Pokémon universe has the trainer been at risk of committing—or being a victim of—a serious crime. Now and in the future, a video game has the ability to affect a player’s nonvirtual life.

While the game has certainly been responsible for a number of accidents, tragedies and unexpected discoveries, there are also some advantages to playing the game.

Unlike most video games, Pokémon Go forces the player to get outside to play the game, so people are experiencing new places. Like most large cities, the Pokémon Go craze has hit the nation’s capital and park rangers decided to capitalize on this opportunity.

“We’re finding that there are thousands of people coming to the National Mall, to play this game, to collect Pokémon, and we know they’re going all over the place — which is great, they’re coming to the park and they’re experiencing that,” Paul Ollig, the chief of interpretation and education for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, told BuzzFeed News on Monday. The National Park Service, he said, wants “to help people to understand a little more about the place that they’re coming to play this game.”

Considering the newness of the game, its impact and potential for state legislation likely won’t be known for many months. But as the game continues to spike in popularity, it is something citizens and legislators will be keeping a nonvirtual eye on. But just watch out—you might have some people knocking on your door to catch a Pokémon in your backyard!

Leila Roberts is an intern with NCSL's Public Affairs program. Nate Monga is an intern with NCSL’s Legislative Management Program. 

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.