I am not sure if any of you have witnessed the recent craze that started in July called Pokémon GO, which has individuals using their Smart Phones to search and capture imaginary creatures in the real world. No I am not making this up. Some are forecasting a “flood” of more games to come, capitalizing on this concept which is more specifically referred to as augmented reality gaming. As with any new technological development, there can be a dark side, which has already been exploited by those who look to victimize others.
Before delving into this discussion, let me first explain a little further about Pokémon Go. The game is aimed at players age 10 and up and at least initially the developers did not see fit to put perimeters on where the “creatures” could be located. Individuals were finding the creatures in clearly inappropriate places for children playing a game, such as The Holocaust Museum, funeral homes, and adult themed stores.
Not long after game was released, a NY state senator expressed concern that the game could be used by “higher-level sex offenders” to gain access to children. The senator observed an informal investigation revealed 57 Pokémon creatures were located near 100 addresses of registered sex offenders across New York City. The senator advocated and apparently obtained earlier this week a parole condition for MOST sex offenders in NY that reflects:
“I understand that I shall not download, access, or otherwise engage in any internet-enabled gaming activities to include Pokémon Go.”
I find this very interesting. I have long stressed that Internet gaming held the potential for sex offenders to engage in grooming activities and therefore was an appropriate supervision prohibition. After all playing a game does not educate or help someone get employment. However, I tended to focus on games children victims would most likely be playing. Children are the ones who are the grooming targets of pedophiles. However, the prohibition reflects “any Internet-enabled gaming.” That clearly applies to Pokémon Go. But does it also apply to online Chess and games less likely to be played by children? A more specific example is the American Association of Retired Persons, which has games for the over 50 crowd to play. Is an elderly, maybe disabled sex offender under supervision in NY now prohibited from this activity? There is a real potential to widen the net here beyond what is needed.
One thing that kind of dropped by the wayside was a recommendation by this same senator to require these game developers to exclude locations where registered sex offenders reside. The state of NY has a shown a willingness to share sex offender registration information for such purposes. Gee, that would exclude a much larger sex offender population then just those under parole supervision. I think though from a developers’ standpoint it may make it bit more challenging to have these augmented reality games function in large areas that are off limits due to sex offenders in the community. (Yes, people, not all sex offenders are in prison and they do live in our communities.)
I mean, what is the acceptable distance from a sex offender and Pokémon creature, 100 feet, or like school restrictions, a 1,000 to 2,000 feet from the sex offender’s residence? Additionally sex offenders are allowed to move, which requires them to update their registration. This would require the gaming company to periodically update their “exclusion zones.” At a minimum this might require a monthly reconciliation but more likely a weekly update to make sure the zones are properly excluded. Also, people we are just taking about keeping the residences of sex offenders off the gaming zones. What about where they work or go to school? This information is also part of the registration. Should the gaming grid also exclude these locations to make sure kids are safe? Maybe from a developer’s standpoint, they hold no responsibility to make sure the players are safe. That is up to the Government, right?
The Government only has control over those who are currently under supervision. Many sex offenders aren’t on supervision. Additionally, there are obviously those who have absconded and are wanted. No parent should throw caution to the wind because there are parole conditions that prohibit supervised sex offenders from using these games. Allowing their children to run free, unsupervised, and possibly alone, while playing Pokémon Go or any other augmented reality game is asking for trouble.
By the way, to date the biggest offender group to exploit Pokémon Go, appears not to be in the sex offender population. At a minimum there have been reports in California, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nevada, Maryland, and Texas where adults playing this game have been robbed at gun point. (I found maybe two examples of sex offenders missing using this particular gaming application) Basically, victims find themselves distracted by the game, in areas they probably should not be in, during times when they should be there. It doesn’t help that they are holding expensive electronic devices in the open. Should we start barring parolees who committed robbery from playing these games too? Maybe they should not be in the close vacancy of a Pokémon creature.
It seems we need to do a better job of balancing these parole restrictions to the risk and tailored to the needs of the case. Additionally, it probably is appropriate to require software/gaming companies to develop products that minimize the potential for harm to users. For starters they should focus on game grids in the real world that are as free from risk areas as possible and where law enforcement regularly patrols. They should also have built in controls that prohibit any users from adding creatures or game tokens to locations that have not been approved. They might also consider requiring users that are given such powers to be properly vetted. Finally, we as consumers, either as individuals or parents need to start thinking about how we are ultimately responsible for our own safety and that of our loved ones and quit relying solely on the private sector and Government to make us safe. On that note, I left a cigar lit somewhere (Hopefully some stray Pokémon hasn’t taken off with it.). Be safe out there!