Niantic Inc., the creative force behind Pokémon Go, announced on Monday that they will be adding second generation Pokemon to their virally popular mobile game. But players will not find these latest battle monsters in the wild. Instead, players must hatch them from eggs that are available at Pokéstops—refueling stations where players can stock up on Pokéballs and unhatched eggs.
A Pokéstop is usually a local landmark, such as a food establishment, statue, or playground—even an outdoor art installation will do. That randomness of location, combined with the distraction that the game provides, has made for some ominous news headlines. A player inadvertently stumbled across a dead body in San Diego. Two other San Diego men walked off an ocean cliff while playing the game. There was even a young man in Baltimore who clipped a cop car by playing the game while driving.
The most disturbing anecdotes, however, were reports of criminal activity. Police in O'Fallon, Missouri, speculated that robbers used the game's real life gathering spots as hunting grounds. It was this specter of criminal activity and potential danger that inspired the Aizman Law Firm of Encino, California, to conduct a national study of Pokéstops.
"Hopefully, our project can serve as reminder for players to pay attention to where they're headed and take precautionary measures," said Katie Chwalik, a project manager for Aizman Law Firm, in an interview with Motherboard.
This summer, Aizman began analyzing a comprehensive map of Pokéstops across the United States (accurate as of August 29, 2016) by cross-referencing it with the 2015 crime data of five major cities: New York, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Cincinnati, and Seattle. After classifying the criminal activity by type and tallying the number of incidents that occurred within a half-mile of each Pokéstop, Aizman identified the most dangerous Pokéstops—the locations where distracted players could become easy marks for opportunistic criminals. Aizman's interactive website includes a browsable map of each location. The results are often surprising.
"While crimes can occur anywhere, it's surprising to hear that even traffic-heavy locations, like the Chariot stop in NYC near Rockefeller Center; or churches and ministries, which comprise 5 of Baton Rouge's 10 most dangerous spots, can be so crime-ridden," said Chwalik.
Not every Pokéstop on these maps is explicitly dangerous, per se—some of them are rife with "quality of life" nuisances. Reggie's in Cincinnati, for example, is flush with incidents of possession/purchase of alcohol under 21, public intoxication, and drinking in public. But that's also because Reggie's is a bar near Louisiana State University, the #1 party school in this year's Princeton Review survey.
Other Pokéstops, however, are flagged for incidents far worse than drunken behavior. In New York City, players should beware of the St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights; more rapes occur within a half-mile radius of this Pokéstop than in any other Pokéstop in New York. The "Woman Face Mural" at Fordham Manor, meanwhile, is the worst Pokéstop for robbery, felony assault, and murder in New York.
In Seattle, there are two outdoor art Pokéstops where players should watch out for unseemly behavior. "Follow the Red Door to Freedom," a mural on the side of the Cancer Pathways building, and "Blue Trees," a downtown art installation, are ranked #1 and #2 for lewd conduct and physical fighting, respectively.
Growing pains for Pokémon Go were inevitable; innovations often begin life as wild, open-ended things. Then, when developers identify problems in their creations, they scale back and make refinements in increments. For instance, Niantic recently inked a partnership with Starbucks; now, 7,800 Starbucks stores across the United States are Pokéstops and Gyms.
"We appreciate their role in creating safe, welcoming locations for people from all walks of life to come together for refreshment and social engagement," Niantic wrote in a public statement.
This Starbucks partnership is a smart, cross-promotional business decision. It's also a savvy move towards respectability—a way to legitimize the game for hesitant consumers and skittish investors, who value the reach of such a social, popular game, but want it to have a reasonable degree of regulation and safety. But even so, players shouldn't let down their guard. A safe store doesn't necessarily indicate that the neighborhood surrounding that store is safe.
"The Chipotle restaurant located south of the University of Cincinnati was the fifth most dangerous stop in the city," noted Chwalik. "One would think that going to get food wouldn't pose a threat, but obviously in this area, where crimes such as theft from a car and pickpocketing have occurred, it would benefit players to make sure they're staying aware of their surroundings."