This year Niantic Labs released a game called Pokémon GO, and it has been wildly popular! As stated by Forbes:
“Cops and kids are playing Pokémon Go together in the streets, local businesses are tailoring their marketing around Pokémon Go, and self-professed socially awkward gamers are making new friends by the dozen. Walk around any neighborhood in America, and it’s clear that Pokémon Go is enormously popular and having a massive social impact. How massive, though? Data published today by SimilarWeb indicates that the mobile game may be poised to surpass Twitter TWTR +7.25% in daily active users on Android.”To play, participants use a smartphone to navigate the real world looking for “augmented reality” characters, which they can acquire and train. These characters appear almost anywhere. Avid gamers quickly made it into the news as they went in search of Pokémon. Not only did they face safety issues as they explored the countryside, but players also encountered angry property owners as they trespassed in search of rare characters, and unique resources at PokéStops and Gyms.
The game does warn players not to trespass and to be alert as they play the game. In the short time since the game’s release, the news has reported stories of players walking off of cliffs, being lured into dangerous locations where they are robbed, and trespassing onto private property.
The legal community and law enforcement authorities are still working through how to relate to this new type of activity. In Constitution Daily, staff of the National Constitution Center said:
“The primary public concern from law-enforcement officials is the possibility of a Pokémon-related trespass could result in physical harm to a game player or a rash of trespassing complaints. The concept of trespass prevents a person from entering a property without its owner’s permission. The legal concept here has its roots in English common law, and an offender can face criminal charges or a civil case, depending on the location of the act and the severity.”
Adventist Risk Management (ARM) is receiving inquiries about what to do when trespassers come onto church or school property in search of virtual reality characters such as Pokémon. It can be alarming when strangers attempt to gain access to the property who are not there to participate in church or school activities. Also, churches and schools want to avoid being held liable for the injury of a player who hurts themselves exploring their property.
- Do not overreact: Most of these people are just innocent gamers who may not have clearly thought through their actions. Others may simply have no respect for property, private or otherwise. Some players are children and must be treated gently and with care. The law holds children at a different level of accountability than an adult. If you do detain or restrain them, you may find yourself in more trouble than they are.
- Request removal of PokeStop or Gym: You may want to visit the Pokémon GO website to seek removal of a PokéStop or Gym from your property. At the Pokemon GO website, click on the Support feature.
- Post “no trespassing” signs: Do this in addition to the removal request in item two, indicating that the person is entering private property and trespassers, who do not have business here, are not welcome. In the context of a church this should be worded carefully to indicate that people are welcome to visit and attend church, but using the property for personal reasons is not allowed.
- Coordinate with Local Law Enforcement: Coordinate with local law enforcement if you do have trespassers on the property. Do not take the law into your hands, or put yourself or colleagues in danger by instigating a hostile encounter.