Pokémon Go - Combatting the New Cyber-Physical Addiction

25/07/2016 11:25 | Updated 25 July 2016

From Digital Addiction to Cyber-Physical Addiction

We defined digital addiction as the obsessive and excessive usage of digital media which could be associated with negative life experiences such as distraction, anxiety and preoccupation. Pokémon Go is special in making people immersed not only using creative and playful online techniques and virtual reality but also in using the power of the physical real space itself.

Pokémon Go would not be called an augmented reality game, which is the popular description of it, but rather augmenting the cyber space with elements from reality. We are now witnessing an era where the cyber space is starting to take the lead and, indeed, host our physical space.

Interactive and Intelligent Digital Addiction Labels

We advocate the need for bespoke legislation or at least tests with regard to the manipulation power and the responsibility of certain technology such as games and social networks to make, even indirectly, people immersed, lose control and make decisions under the effect of irresistible urge.

A Pokémon Go gamer may feel the urge to visit unknown and dangerous places aiming to catch Pokémon. Technically we can detect that easily, but would the game send a warning? Would the place put a warning? Would the party governing a place be able to communicate messages to players in its physical area?

In our research at Bournemouth University, we have already advocated the need to consider that care about users is a social responsibility of technology developers.

We proposed the use of interactive and intelligent labels and warning messages to keep people informed about their technology usage and make them able to take an informed decision. This could include using timers and progress bars to show the time spent using technology or sending recommendations like switching off the phone while sleeping if activity is detected.

To make such interactive warning labels more acceptable and less disruptive in the case of games like Pokémon Go, it would be interesting to embed that in the game itself, for example by designing an advisor Pokémon telling gamers about the time spent, the distance walked, and the potential risks in certain areas.

Following a Nudge approach, popular in healthcare, these policing Pokémon can make gamers lose points if they deviate from an agreed navigation and walking policy. That could be argued to make the game perhaps more socially responsible and recommendable.


It will be very interesting to review whether the engineering of Pokémon Go went through any risk assessment or considered their duty of care. It will also be of interest to see whether this duty of care, or lack thereof, might lead to court cases - similar to a recent famous case where a gamer sued the game company for having a 3-week-long gaming session which lead to loss of job and wife.

It will be also very interesting to see how third parties will use the game. For example, one can foresee shops and touristic events contracting the producers to add special Pokémon to their location with special abilities. It is similar to adding advertisements links on the side of a website where the owner of the site gets some commission when the visitors click on the link. In other words, it could be used as a cyber-physical persuasion and perhaps manipulation tool.