Days after its release, Pokemon Go has become a fast-moving phenomenon, drawing flash mob-type crowds searching neighborhoods, parks and urban streets for imaginary characters on their smartphones.
The game, which trades on the nostalgia of the popular 1990s franchise and the thrill of exploring an augmented reality, is poised to surpass Twitter in daily active users on Android, according to data published by SimilarWeb, an information technology firm. And on the Google Play store, it’s ranked No. 1 above Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Users play the game by wandering neighborhoods and other public places, trying to discover geo-located Pokemon characters, which show up as if in the real world on their smartphone cameras. Players sometimes congregate at local landmarks to join teams and compete with one another.
But already the game has posed risks and warnings that users may be drawn into danger.
Armed robbers in Missouri used the app to lure victims to isolated locations where they could be robbed, said police. Others have been injured chasing the imaginary characters on their smartphones, without paying attention to their real-life surroundings.
In Washington state, Duvall police posted a warning on Facebook after players had been found “creeping around the Duvall PD … in the dark, popping out of bushes.”
“Just use common sense,” the post said, suggesting users “make sure your presence is well known. … And remember to be polite.”
The Darwin Police Station in Australia also discovered people trying to find Pokemon characters at their building and warned players to be safe.
“It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast,” police said, referring to the rabbitlike Pokemon character.
Washington’s Department of Transportation warned against “Pokemoning” while driving. “No Pokemoning from behind the wheel,” the agency tweeted.
The game has led to some grisly discoveries as well. A quest to locate water-category Pokemon led a teen to discover a dead body in a river in Wyoming.
“I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water,” 19-year-old Shayla Wiggins told KTVQ news. “I had to take a second look, and I realized it was a body.”
She also admitted she probably never would have gone to that place if it weren’t for the game.
The Pokemon Go app is now installed on more Android phones than Tinder is and average users spend more than 43 minutes a day engaged with the app — that’s twice the amount of time users spend on Snapchat, SimilarWeb reported.
So far, Pokemon Go is available only in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, mostly because Niantic Labs had to pause the rollout after an overwhelming demand on their servers.
On Monday, photos and video from Central Park in New York City showed a horde of people with their eyes glued to their phone screens.
“Pokemon GO is just insane right now. This is in Central Park. It’s basically been HQ for Pokemon GO,” tweeted Jonathan Perez.
Despite its hazards, the craze continues.
©2016 Los Angeles Times