It took just five days for Pokémon Go to incite an international incident. Fortunately for the two Alberta teenagers who started it, their mother was close by to pick them up.
The brothers inadvertently, yet still illegally, crossed from Alberta, the Canadian province, into Montana Thursday evening while they hunted for Pokémon. The mobile game just became available in Canada on July 17. Border patrol agents apprehended the teens, said that they realized they were unaware of their surroundings while they were playing the game, and released them to their mother at a nearby border station in Sweet Grass, Montana.
The brothers aren’t the first players to accidentally stir up trouble as they search for Charizard, Blastoise, and Pikachu. Across the world, authorities and organizations are trying to deal with a host of unintended consequences of the augmented-reality game, from players finding themselves in danger, to disturbing sensitive sites, to fueling security concerns.
To play Pokémon Go, players wander public spaces like restaurants and museums in search of virtual Pokémon characters that will appear on the screens of their smartphones.
“Pokémon can be found in every corner of the earth,” reads the app when the game is downloaded.
Yet, as players search for these imaginary monsters, they have found themselves staring at their phones, and not at their surroundings. That's how the teenage brothers say they wound up on the wrong side of the border.
“Both juveniles were so captivated by their Pokémon GO games that they lost track of where they were,” said Michael Rappold, a spokesman for US Border Patrol. “They crossed the international border inadvertently, but agents were able to reunite them with their mother.”
Immediately after the game was first introduced in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, game-absorbed players began inadvertently putting themselves at risk. Players have been reported to have crashed their cars into trees, walked into traffic, and ventured into unsafe neighborhoods. Four teenagers were arrested in O’Fallon, Mo., for armed robbery when police say they used the game to lure unsuspecting players to them.
In Bosnia, players have been warned to stay away from fields littered with landmines leftover from the 1990s. A Bosnian demining charity, Posavina bez mina, published the warning on its Facebook page, after it received reports of players walking into risky areas.
Others have played the game in locations that have been deemed not quite culturally appropriate, prompting sites to warn players to stay away. Auschwitz Memorial and Museum, the Arlington National Cemetery, and the 9/11 memorial museum in New York, have all insisted Pokémon Go not be played there.
The popularity of the game also has authorities decrying it as sacrilegious or a security threat. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabian media reports said the kingdom’s top clerical body, the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, revived a 2001 fatwa, or decree, against Pokémon. The next day, Saudi Arabian government denied reports it deemed the game un-Islamic.
Other countries, including Egypt, Russia, Kuwait, and Israel, have all said the game presents security risks.
“Pokémon Go is the latest tool used by spy agencies in the Intel war, a cunning despicable app that tries to infiltrate our communities in the most innocent way under the pretext of entertainment,” said Hamdi Bakheet, a member of Egypt’s defense and national security committee in Parliament, according to Al Jazeera.