Pokémon Go gamers are being urged not to risk their safety after one of the virtual figures appeared on screen in a busy Larne town centre street.
The hugely popular augmented-reality game uses the GPS on players’ mobile phones to detect their location and make animal characters, known as Pokémon, appear on their smartphone screens.
However, the PSNI and NSPCC have recently issued warnings amid concerns that Pokémon players, known as trainers, could be putting themselves in danger.
On Monday, a local player was shocked to witness one of the figures emerge on screen as he crossed a busy road at rush hour.
“I was crossing the street with my friend, who had the game open on his phone, when suddenly a Pokémon popped up,” said his companion.
“We couldn’t believe that a Pokémon figure would be situated in the middle of a road, it’s so dangerous.
“We had made sure that the coast was clear and we didn’t stop, but a lot of young kids play the game and they could be so engrossed in the game that they wander into the street and get knocked down.
“It’s important for people of all ages to stay alert and not to forget about road safety. You might be playing an augmented-reality game, but you are still vulnerable to real-world dangers.
“I would tell these people not to risk their lives for a game and for parents to accompany any young kids who are out playing it. It may be entertaining, and it’s good for people to get outside and exercise, but at the end of the day your safety is the most important thing.”
The game is based on the cartoon Pokémon characters of the 1990s, and since its release a fortnight ago the value of Nintendo, one of the game’s investors, has rocketed.
A disclaimer is displayed at the start of each Pokémon Go game, which advises players: “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”
The PSNI have also issued warnings on social media, with one police Facebook page advising: “If you find one near a road, look left and right before crossing, rather than staring just at the screen and aimlessly wandering! Pokémon may be virtual reality, but cars are very real, and very sore.
“We too are loving trying to ‘catch em all!’ but please folks, be careful!!
“I’ve come across groups of kids out in the dark, cars parked up in weird and wonderful places and the most frightening, someone cruising slowly about in the car because her wee sister wanted to catch some Pokémon!
“Pokémon Go is not designed to be played from a vehicle that’s moving on a road. This is a massive road safety issue, at best, it’s careless. You can’t cruise about the road at 15mph, its far too dangerous, regardless of the time of day.”
In America, one Pokémon player found a dead body while searching for a character, and three students had their phones stolen in a park in Manchester.
As part of the game, players can purchase “lure modules” to attract Pokémon to a location. This also attracts other players, leading to safety fears.
The NSPCC in Northern Ireland says that the game’s owners must do more to ensure it is not used by those who would put children at risk of serious harm, and is worried that offenders could target unsuspecting children by using the app’s geolocation feature to lure them into traps.
Head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, Neil Anderson, said: “Pokémon Go is setting a precedent as the most successful reality game app on the market. It’s very disappointing that child safety isn’t at its heart.”
Nintendo had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.