Column: Old game gets a virtual new twist in Pokémon Go

It’s a virtual invasion. Gamers who normally don’t leave their couches have been venturing into the great outdoors en masse over the past couple of weeks in search of Pokémon Go characters.

Apparently some of them aren’t used to being outside, because they keep walking into traffic and other dangerous places.

It is such a problem, in fact, that the Richmond RCMP put out a release last week warning players to watch where they are going.

Among their concerns: “Potentially serious or fatal injuries when players are not mindful of their surroundings — this can include walking into ditches, off docks, falling off structures or walking into other pedestrians, cyclists, traffic.”

In the U.S., a pair of gamers did fall off a cliff in San Diego county playing the popular game. Elsewhere, a young girl was struck when she walked in front of a vehicle in pursuit of one of the Pokémon characters. All were injured but survived.

For most players, however, it’s all in good fun and it involves getting out in the fresh air. That’s a good thing.

It turns out the field behind my house is among the places these virtual characters have taken to hiding. Recently I heard a ruckus outside on the trail. Some kids were making a racket and I heard one boy say, “There’s Pikachu.”

A neighbor yelled at them to get out of there. The group of tweens screamed, “Pokémon Go,” and then ran for their lives. One fell behind when, presumably lost in the screen of his smartphone, he tripped over some roots.

Normally, I wouldn’t have a clue what the heck they were yelling about, but this time, I had actually researched the subject and discovered what it is that has millions of people roaming the continent’s streets, parks and trails.

They’re hunting for characters that were popular 20 years ago — only today, they’re doing it in virtual reality.

Sadly, like most things, someone has already figured out how to take advantage of the game to others’ disadvantage. The game requires users to allow access to their location and phone apps, as it lets gamers play along with others around the world. That means strangers now have access to where some children are.

Vancouver police have already asked people to use caution when responding to Craigslist ads offering to drive people around to find Pokémon characters.

I can’t decide if this game is the final example of just how lame the virtual world has made humans, or if it is, in fact, a good thing because it is getting people outside (gasp) and exercising.

Then again, isn’t it just a gamers’ form of geocaching?

I don’t know how I’m supposed to relate anymore. Can’t kids just ride a bike or climb a tree?

Based on the game’s popularity, it’s beginning to look more and more like a case of,“If you can’t beat ‘em …”

Maybe I’ll jump on the Pokémon bandwagon, and walk around town with my head down, staring at my phone as I search for Pikachu.

If you see me before I see you, please remember to honk.

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