At its peak, Pokémon Go, an augmented reality mobile game, took the country by storm. It is the fastest mobile application to earn $100 million, and has been downloaded over 800 million times. While revolutionary in its success, Pokémon Go also represents a revolution in the interaction between video games and the physical world.

As an augmented reality (AR) video game, Pokémon Go interacts with the physical world as part of its gameplay. The game allows players to search for and capture fictional monsters on their phone that are hiding in specific places in our physical world (within the game). In order to acquire necessary items to capture the monsters, players must visit pokéstops, which are located at physical landmarks in cities and communities. Players are therefore required to explore and traverse the physical world around them in order to advance and succeed in the game.

This newfound relationship between video game players and the physical world raises novel legal dilemmas. In a February 2019 settlement, Pokémon Go developer Niantic settled a class action lawsuit filed by angry homeowners that found players of the game surrounding and trespassing upon their private property.

Under the terms of the settlement, Niantic agreed to implement new features that will allow for quick and responsive relief for complaints they receive from concerned property owners. These measures will include timely response for requests to move pokéstops, only allow pokéstops to be open during operational hours of parks or landmarks, and warn players to be courteous of their surroundings when congregated in a certain area.

While the popularity of Pokémon Go is waning compared to its opening success, there remains a new legal problem with augmented reality video games that hope to ride Pokémon Go’s wave of success. Courts have had little say in the relationship between augmented reality and private property, and what responsibilities video game developers owe the world around them. The recent settlement does not offer a groundbreaking outcome or influence upon this field of jurisprudence, but as augmented reality video games continue to be successful after Pokémon Go, courts will have to respond to similar concerns that will inevitably rise in the future.

Michael Kushner


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