The game has been referred to as a “social media phenomenon” which has brought people together from all walks of life. 231 million people engaged in 1.1 billion interactions that mentioned Pokémon Go on Facebook and Instagram in the month of July. Numerous media outlets referred to the surge in popularity as “Pokémon Go Mania” or simply “Pokémania”.
The massive popularity of the game resulted in several unusual positive effects. For example, the game enabled players to help catch criminals and to report crimes in progress, and has even aided law enforcement community relations, albeit with caveats. Businesses have benefited from the nearby presence of PokéStops (or their being PokéStops themselves) with the concomitant influx of people, and the intense exploration of communities has brought local history to the forefront. The game was also seen bringing its players to places of worship, as many Pokégyms are located there. Despite some criticism by religious leaders, this was received positively by religious groups, who saw it as reminding adherents to come and pray. Some establishments considered purchasing lures in the game to attract additional players to PokéStops on their property. Within a week of its release, a secondary market emerged for the game, both for the resell of high-level accounts on Craigslist and PlayerUp, and for the sale of expert advice on Thumbtack. Wireless provider T-Mobile US started an offer for free data for a year for Pokémon Go sessions, and Yelp added a filter that only shows businesses which have a PokéStop nearby. National parks across the United States saw an influx of visitors due to the game, with “hundreds or thousands” of people visiting the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. on the weekend following Pokémon Go’s release in the country. Small museums with PokéStops placed at exhibits also reported increased attendance, such as the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, and the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Boca Raton, Florida. Charity organizations also sought engagement from players, with animal shelters offering dog walks to people who want to hatch eggs.
Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, stated that he hoped the app would be released in Brazil before the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in the city (and it was, on August 3), and United States presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton mentioned the app during their 2016 election campaigns. In late July, during a public address, the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella compared a political issue about the date of an incoming referendum as preposterous as the hunt for the Pokémon. Shortly after the game’s release, Bellator mixed martial artist Michael Page celebrated a knockout of his match opponent, Evangelista Santos by putting on a red Ash Ketchum-like hat and rolling a prop Poké Ball in Santos’s direction. On July 25, Dwayne Johnson released a promo video featuring MatPat and Ali-A with himself as a tough, rare Pokémon.
The game was credited for popularizing augmented reality, and was praised by genderfluid groups for letting the players choose a “style” instead of “gender”. The game has had a positive impact among individuals with autism.
The “Pokémon Theme” from the animated series saw a 630% increase in listeners on music streaming platform Spotify during the month of the game’s release. Meanwhile, streaming services such as Hulu experienced an increased viewership of the Pokémon series and films. Nintendo has reported that sales of the 3DS Pokémon games have jumped as a result of the app’s popularity.
A Twitch channel, Twitch Plays Pokémon Go, was created that mimics the crowd-played Twitch Plays Pokémon channel, allowing viewers to direct a virtual avatar in the game using an iPhone programmed to spoof its location. Niantic later issued permanent bans to those who are cheating on the game by means such as GPS spoofing and bots.
Pokémon themed pornography increased in popularity after the release of the game. xHamster, an adult video streaming website, reported that, within 5 days of the game’s release, Pokémon related terms were the most searched for videos. Another adult video streaming website, Pornhub, reported that Pokémon related searches spiked 136%.
In August 2016, the number of daily users for the app have declined from 45 million to 30 million. Craig Chapple, editor of PocketGamer.Biz, has responded to the drop of players with a rhetorical question: “If the numbers continued to drop so dramatically, who will be left to play you in your small, local town?”
Criticism and incidents
The app was criticized for using locations such as cemeteries and memorials as sites to catch Pokémon, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the ANZAC War Memorial, and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Niantic later removed content from sensitive areas such as the Hiroshima Memorial and Holocaust Museum. The game sparked complaints from Dutch company ProRail, who said that players entered their railway tracks, and fire stations told players to not impede their staff by congregating outside. Residents of the Sydney suburb of Rhodes became fed up with large numbers of players gathering in their area, and threw water bombs at visiting players. The influx of people led to dangerous traffic congestion, excessive littering, and numerous noise complaints; more than 250 parking violation tickets were issued by police. Three PokéStops were later removed from Rhodes to reduce the number of people playing.
The game’s distribution of PokéStops and gyms (derived from the portals of Ingress, Niantic’s science fiction-themed augmented reality game) has been noted to be sparser in many minority neighborhoods in a reflection of American demographics. Players in rural areas also complained about the lack of Pokémon spawns, PokéStops, and gyms in their area. Niantic established a support page allowing players to request new PokéStops and gyms; however, the page was later removed. Pokémon Go has been criticized for game accessibility issues by players with physical disabilities. The game is more difficult for those who are not able to move around, requiring players to walk around and have manual dexterity to experience the game. The AbleGamers Foundation sent a list of proposed modifications to Niantic for inclusion.
Police departments in various countries have issued warnings, some tongue-in-cheek, regarding inattentive driving, trespassing, and being targeted by criminals due to being unaware of one’s surroundings. In the state of New York, sex offenders are banned from playing the app while on parole. Bosnian players have been warned to stay out of minefields left over from the 1990s Bosnian War.
People have suffered various injuries from accidents related to the game, On July 20, 2016, it was reported that an 18-year-old boy in Chiquimula, Guatemala was shot and killed while playing the game in the late evening hours. This was the first reported death in connection with the app. The boy’s 17-year-old cousin, who was accompanying the victim, was shot in the foot. Police speculated that the shooters used the game’s GPS capability to find the two. In Japan, the first accident occurred within hours of the game’s release. The first death in Japan attributed to Pokémon Go occurred in late August 2016. A distracted driver playing the game killed one woman and seriously injured another. The 39-year-old farmer did not notice the women crossing a street and struck them with his light truck. The woman died of a broken neck. Japan’s National Police Agency said it was the 79th Pokémon Go-related accident in the country.
Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, described the game as “harmful mania”, and a defense and national security committee parliamentarian regarded it an espionage tool. A Cossack leader declared that it “smacks of Satanism”, Kuwait banned the game from government sites, Indonesian officials deemed it a national security threat, and in Israel the IDF banned the game from Army bases out of security considerations. In Saudi Arabia, the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars declared, in light of a 2001 fatwa banning the Pokémon card game as a form of gambling, that the electronic app required a new ruling. This was also followed by both Indian and Malaysian Islamic leaders telling Indian and Malaysian Muslims to avoid the game. In Thailand, during the 2016 constitutional referendum polling, Pokémon Go players were told to refrain from entering polling stations. Thus the Thai National Broadcasting and Communications Commission intends to ask Niantic to remove Pokémon characters and PokéStops from locations such as government facilities, historic and religious sites, private property as well dangerous spots such as narrow footpaths and rivers. Russia has voiced their concerns over the application, with Nikolai Nikiforov, the Minister of Communications and Mass Media of Russia, suspecting foreign intelligence agencies using the application to collect information, while some religious groups claim it to be demonic. The High Council of Virtual Spaces in Iran officially banned the game on August 5, 2016 over security concerns. On August 14, 2016, the Pentagon restricted the use of the game on their property, citing security risks by collecting secret information. Since the launch of Pokémon Go in the United Kingdom, 290 police incidents have been reported to occur in England and Wales