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Jul 13, 2016

Will Pokémon Go forever change the face of government?

July 13, 2016

Here at Mowat, we talk a lot about the policy implications of disruptive technologies and ideas. In recent years, we’ve written about how policymakers can prepare for shifting realities and changes on the horizon. Drones – what do they mean?! How do you implement marijuana legalization?

How can governments regulate sharing economy business models like Uber and AirBnB? (OK, we’ve talked a lot about that one). And looking further ahead, what happens in a world where automation allows robots to do things like drive our cars?

Now, it seems that our newest challenge might be upon us: Pokémon Go.

What is it? Will it change everything?

For those that haven’t been reading the news or accessed the internet in a few days: Pokémon Go is a new smartphone app that capitalizes on the popular 90s game, Pokémon.


It’s an augmented reality game that allows users to “catch pokémon” in real time, using their pedestrian power and a smartphone with GPS and camera capabilities.


At Mowat, we came into the office this morning to find our own policy intern wandering around the office, mumbling variations of “gotta catch’em all” to himself. In case anyone is interested, take a “pik-at” the Drowzee he caught in the hallway.

The game hasn’t been officially released in Canada yet, but the internet is already losing its collective mind. Media coverage on how people are using this new technology abounds. In fact, news media is already beginning to philosophize about what the game’s success means for “late capitalism.” Here in Toronto, articles are pre-emptively outlining the potential pitfalls: distracted walking accidents, loitering and private property concerns.

And it’s true. Sometimes new technologies have the power to fundamentally challenge the rules and systems that govern our society. It is the job of policymakers to meet these challenges and find ways to address them. For example, in response to concerns about texting and driving, the Ontario government introduced its distracted driving strategy. And the federal government announced that it’s examining how to prepare our roads for the arrival of automated cars.

Our newest challenge might be upon us: Pokémon Go

This is not that situation. So, let’s take a deep breath and remind ourselves of some policy lessons that we’ve already learned.

1] Don’t overreact.

Generally, good regulation does not arise from a state of panic. So, no, it’s not time to legislate distracted walking (as has been contemplated in other jurisdictions), or ban the use of the game. We stand firmly behind evidence-based policy-making in all fields, and this is no exception. While some studies in the US have claimed that texting impacts people’s ability to walk in a straight line and accommodate obstacles, it’s also apparently the case we adopt a “more cautious gait pattern” during phone-use, to avoid calamity. A recent City of Toronto report on Pedestrian and Cycling Safety found that only 13 percent of pedestrians were coded as being inattentive at the time of a collision. However, nearly 67 percent of pedestrian injuries can be attributed to driver error.

So maybe we can just let this one go for now. There are probably no policy implications for walking. Governments don’t need to adapt. And the internet doesn’t need any more painful, reaching, trying-to-speak-to-millennials think pieces (whoops).

This is not to say that augmented-reality won’t have long-term policy implications in areas related to law and technology policy. There may be implications for privacy, safety, tech transfer and how we conceptualize digital versus physical space. However, in line with what we’ve said about the sharing economy and autonomous vehicles, the right response is to not overreact. Let’s wait and see. We don’t yet know how this is going to matter, or if this is going to matter.

2] The social contract still applies.

In times of great change, it is often advisable to return to first principles. We decided a long time ago that we all, as individuals, benefit by making some compromises to our personal freedoms in the interest of a fair and functioning society. We know that the game is fun, and you want to catch 150 pokémons or whatever. You still have to share the sidewalk. These people are trying to work. And stop turning up at this guy’s house.


3] Please, please, watch where you’re going when you walk and drive.

Seriously, we’re just looking out for you.

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Jamie Van Ymeren
Jordann Thirgood
Michael Morden

Release Date

Jul 13, 2016

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