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Pokemon Go: Virtual World, Real Chance for Injury

Pokemon GO!

Pokemon Go is officially a phenomenon. Since its launch last week, the virtual reality game has been downloaded millions of times all over the world. It is on more devices than the popular app Tindr and has more daily users than Twitter.

The game involves using the GPS and camera on a smartphone to track and catch virtual monsters or "Pokemon." Unlike previous games, this one requires players to actually move through their environment to be present in the virtual game world. The Washington Post referred to it as "part bird-watching, part geocaching, part trophy hunting."

But while the game is played in a virtual world, the injuries being suffered by players are very real. "If you aren't looking where you are going, you can get hurt," says Zach Robinson, MPA, EMT-P, trauma outreach/injury prevention coordinator for University of Utah Health. "Sure, the game is providing a map of where you are walking, but that map doesn't include traffic, uneven sidewalks, or potential obstacles."

Already there have been reports of wrist and ankle injuries, as well as broken bones, when players have fallen because they are unaware of their surroundings. The game has a warning screen at the opening, telling players to be aware of their surroundings at all times. However, that seems to be interpreted by many players as "be aware of your surroundings for potential new Pokemon."

Falls aren't the only potential risk when playing the game. Players also may unwittingly wander into dangerous situations. "Distraction is a major cause of auto-pedestrian accidents," says Robinson. "That goes not only for drivers, but for those walking as well. If you are crossing a street. your eyes should be ahead of you, not on your phone."

Pokemon Go distraction behind the wheel also is a major concern. Several law enforcement agencies have warned about hunting Pokemon from the driver's seat. "Honestly, I don't understand why anyone would put themselves at that kind of risk—not only themselves, but other drivers as well," says Robinson. "When you are driving, put down the phone."

For the most part, Pokemon Go is a fun game that is getting people out and moving. Since some features require walking a certain distance, the game is encouraging people to get a proper amount of exercise. However, precautions still need to be taken. "You really don't want a Pikachu to be the reason you end up in the emergency room," Robinson says.