UT takes part in Pokemon Go phenomenon

Catherine Marfin

During a typical walk across campus, a dozen or more students can be seen with their heads buried in their smartphones, caught up in the nation’s latest technology craze. 

Pokemon Go, an app that sends players outside to find imaginary “pocket monsters,” or Pokemon, has taken the nation by storm. Since its launch on July 6, the app has already garnered 21 million daily active users in the U.S. — more than Twitter — according to a report by TechCrunch. The app has more installations since its release than Candy Crush Saga and Tinder, both of which launched in 2012. 

Radio-television-film sophomore Richa Iyer said the game is so popular because of its accessibility. 

“It was a big part of my childhood, and now I just need my smartphone to play,” Iyer said. “It goes against what the older generation says about technology, that it shuts people in and makes them less likely to interact and be social.”

In the game, players capture, battle and train virtual creatures that appear throughout the real world. Pokemon Go relies heavily on GPS and requires players to move in the real world to move in the game. To play, users create a “trainer” to catch Pokemon, visit “gyms” to battle other players and earn special items and search for “Pokestops,” which give players special power-up items.

Although users were disappointed because the areas around campus originally lacked Pokestops and gyms, the map was updated last week. Now UT landmarks, such as Turtle Pond and the Tower, attract many players looking to find new Pokemon or stock up on special items.

UT Plan II alumnus John Hanke is the CEO of Niantic, the software developer behind the game. Hanke told Business Insider the app has three goals: to give players a reason to exercise, explore their communities and “break the ice” with
other players.

Despite its popularity, the app has raised concerns. When it first launched, the app required users to sign in through their Google account, granting Niantic full access to players’ accounts — an issue Niantic claimed was accidental and fixed with an app update Tuesday. 

Additional safety issues have also surfaced. Largely based on GPS, the game has put players in unexpected situations.

 In Austin, a man was robbed at gunpoint while playing the game and waiting at a bus stop last Tuesday. In Washington, two brothers found a loaded gun, in Wyoming, a teen found a dead body and in Indiana, a sex offender was arrested after he was caught playing the game with a minor. 

Across the country, there have been reports of players using “Lure Modules” — which gamers can activate to attract Pokemon to a specific location — to facilitate crimes. 

“If a person wants to do ill will towards you, they can just lay and wait for you to show up,” University of Texas Police Officer William Pieper said. “If you want to play the game, there’s safety in numbers.” 

The Texas Department of Transportation has launched a “Don’t Pokemon Go and Drive” campaign to combat distracted driving concerns, and the Austin Police Department held a press conference Wednesday to give players safety tips, advising gamers to remain vigilant, avoid private property and be aware of stranger danger.

Despite these concerns, hoards of students continue to flock to campus to catch ‘em all. 

“People are reliving and being nostalgic about the old Pokemon games,” said geographic earth science senior Alan Garcia. “When we were little, we’d all think about walking around and having our own Pokemon. It’s kinda like it came true. We’re older now, but we can still have fun with it.”