Pokémon Go players are disrupting rural towns


By Tim Mandell - The Rural Blog



The global phenoenon of the Pokémon Go game is disrupting some rural towns and creating safety hazards. Game players have been linked to car accidents, injuries, robberies, sexual assaults, and even a death in Guatemala, after a user was shot and killed by a homeowner after breaking into a house to catch a Pokémon, Ryan Miller reports for USA Today.

Signs of disrespect abound, along with safety concerns. A central Kentucky cemetery has posted notice that play is prohibited inside its grounds. The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., has asked players to stop searching for Pokémon inside the museum, Andrea Peterson reports for The Washington Post. The Pentagon has banned use of military phones to play the game, Andrew Tilghman reports for Military Times. The mayor of a rural French town has banned the game, saying it puts drivers and pedestrians as risk, Philippe Sotto reports for The Associated Press. In India, where the game has yet to be released, a public-interest group has called for the game to be banned, fearing it will cause traffic accidents, Raymond Ronamai reports for International Business Times.

Occoquan, Virginia, a 300-year-old historic riverfront town of 1,016 residents just off Interstate 95, “has unwittingly become a hotbed for the game,” Perry Stein reports for the Post. “A place that touts itself as ‘an oasis and a little-known gem’ offering ‘that personal touch of Main Street USA’ has transformed into a virtual-reality superhighway. Occoquan’s newfound popularity has been a boon for the quaint restaurants and shops that line the town’s three-block main strip, as any kind of tourism brings in business. But residents in the D.C. suburb are now complaining that Occoquan has lost its quiet vibe, and town officials are scrambling to figure out how to keep everyone safe.”

What makes Occoquan a popular Pokémon destination is that it’s a town on the banks of the Occoquan River, “home to both land and water creatures in the game.” Stein writes. “Occoquan is filled with restaurants and shops, and by virtue of its centuries of history, it is lined with historical markers; these are spots conducive to housing lots of Pokémon, something that is a rarity in most suburban and rural areas. And it’s just 11 miles south of the Capital Beltway along I-95, making it central to many commutes and a short drive from the district.”

Playing of the game in Occoquan has led to the unusual sight of traffic jams during the day and pedestrians wandering the streets at 2 a.m., Stein writes. “Occoquan’s denizens are ­demanding a way to make it all stop. They speak of parents struggling to put young children to sleep because of all the Pokémon-related chatter outside their homes, and they worry about the drivers who have been playing Pokémon Go while behind the wheel, careering down one-way streets in the wrong direction. Occoquan’s leaders have put up signs around town warning people not to ‘Pokémon and Drive’ in an attempt to keep pedestrians who are staring at their phones safe from drivers who are doing the same.”

The Rural Blog is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

By Tim Mandell

The Rural Blog

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