There’s a car idling out in front of my house and the driver isn’t getting out. The person is immersed in their phone. Sometimes this person is a man, sometimes a woman. Ages vary. Sometimes they’re puffing on a cigarette or Juul with a robotic look of determination plastered on their face as though they are accessing the Matrix. The first few times this happened, I gave the creepy driver the benefit of the doubt; they’re probably lost and consulting their Google maps for correct directions and, being a responsible driver, decided to pull over to do so. But, this is rarely, if ever, the case. When people are stopped in their cars in front of my house, or literally standing at the tip of my driveway they are searching for shimmering Squirtles in Pokémon Go! or fighting death eaters in the new Harry Potter mobile game, Wizards Unite. My actual home has become a playing field in a group of gamers’ augmented reality.
This phenomenon is not limited to my own personal experience. It’s happening everywhere. Even car insurance companies are talking about it. Mobile gamers absent-minded preoccupation makes families feel like zombies are just lurking in front of our houses for unreasonable amounts of time and in odd numbers. In other words, whether you live in the suburbs or the city, phone games like Pokémon Go! and Wizards Unite have created an epidemic of loitering and distracted driving.
Confronting a mobile gamer who is idling in front of your house smoking a cigarette isn’t dangerous, but when I have to ask a person to keep it moving it does feel a little like I’m babysitting adult children who don’t share my DNA and aren’t on my insurance plan. And it’s not limited to people in vehicles. I once had a dude with a giant backpack standing in front of my daughter’s window during her nap while he stared at his phone.
I’m a paranoid parent and need to lighten up, right? I’ve just become an uptight dad, right? Wrong. Every single parent knows that if someone is just standing around in front of your house when your kid is sleeping, you’re going to freak the fuck out on that person. Period. This is what went on in my faux-macho dad mind when I saw the backpack guy. “I’ve been thrown out of an Oasis concert on Staten Island! I can handle this!”
After 20 minutes of psyching myself up, I gave the guy enough time to vamoose on his own. When he didn’t, I somehow mustered an eye dropper’s worth of real courage and walked outside, saying: “Hey, so you’re playing Pokémon Go! and that’s cool, but this is my house.” This particular gentlemen just smiled and said: “Oh, I’m playing the Harry Potter game, Wizards Unite!”
He didn’t understand I was mad, but I asked him, politely, if he could get going. I was furious. In theory, the Potter thing should have made this better. I like Harry Potter about 100 billion times more than I like Pokémon, but I mean, if J.K. Rowling was projecting a hologram of herself onto my lawn giving a live reading of a new Potter book during my daughter’s nap, I’d still be pissed. Excited about the new Potter book and Rowling’s new holographic tech? Yes. But still really pissed.
With other people, I haven’t been so kind as I was with the Harry Potter guy. When I asked one cigarette-smoking actual Pokémon player what she was doing and she said “Pokémon” I just glared at her until the car started moving away.
This kind of thing isn’t limited to my little street either. In the city where I live — Portland, Maine —city officials specifically petitioned the game maker Niantic (a Google company) to remove virtual tokens from a public cemetery. Why? Well, for one thing, that cemetery had a scary history of distracted driving accidents, which, as any parent knows, is a huge problem relative to child safety. Did I mention my local wizards and Pokémon trainers are almost always in cars? Yeah, my backpack guy on foot was actually one of the good ones. What’s to prevent a mobile gamer from accidentally letting their foot slip off the brake while they’re shooting their hedgehog Patronus at Voldemort?
Just this week, a State Trooper in Washington state pulled over a car and found the driver playing Pokemon Go on eight phones at the same time. I understand this isn’t the norm and it might not represent most Pokémon Go or Wizard Unite players, but come the fuck on.
#PokemonDistraction Sergeant Kyle Smith contacted a vehicle on the shoulder yesterday evening. This is what was next to the driver! Playing #PokemonGO with EIGHT (8) phones! Driver agreed to put phones in back seat and continued his commute with 8 less distractions. pic.twitter.com/tgOr16CRlm
— Trooper Rick Johnson (@wspd2pio) August 14, 2019
As a hardcore nerd dad, in theory, I should be the guy who is sympathetic to this kind of thing. I heard that Jurassic World mobile dinosaur game was tight. I really, really like Harry Potter and can’t wait to introduce my daughter to the books when she’s a little older. If some of these distracted drivers chilling on my block were playing a Star Wars or Star Trek mobile game, I might get a little conflicted.
But having a child changes everything. When the Pokémon Go craze first hit in 2016, I didn’t have a kid yet, and mostly it felt like more people in bars in New York were just zoned out more than usual. But now, it’s not the same. Now the people playing these games are operating mobile death machines that orbit my house every single day. In that new episode of the latest season of Black Mirror, the main character causes a tragic car accident over a social media update. Imagine how stupid you’d feel if you caused a car accident because you were casting a Harry Potter spell on your phone.
What’s at stake here is clearly a little more than just my privacy and feelings of security in my own home. But, for now, relative to Pokémon Go and Harry Potter gamers, getting them off my actual lawn is a good place to start.