Pokémon GO, the global augmented reality game that's brought fans out of their homes to catch Pokémon across the planet, has brought about plenty of real-world positives. Unfortunately, when players get power hungry and start taking game hacks too far, we all get a little screwed—both digitally and in real life.
Listen: it's fun to mess things up. You'll have a hard time finding a game without cheats and hacks because it's amusing to wield that kind of power. And if we all follow the wise words of Uncle Ben, we can hack for our own enjoyment and even the greater good.
Sometimes that just means making the game less difficult for a newer player or harder for a more experienced one. But beyond the obvious, many fans have changed games in fun, interesting, and even weird ways (myself included). There's an entire culture around hacking old console games to add new features, storylines and dialogue, and even routinely absent heroines (for wanting, neglected female gamers).
It's a little like being a superhero—electronically speaking—if you cheat or hack for the right reasons. If it doesn't affect anyone else, at worst it's just inconsequential and only for your own benefit. But like many comic book villains, if you let that power go to your head, you can cause serious problems—even in the world of Pokémon GO.
We have a lot of wonderful public parks around the world, and in a sunny city like Los Angeles, they're a popular location for exercise. Pokémon GO also made them popular hunting grounds, especially ones like Los Angeles' Barnsdall Park that not only houses a Gym but also wild Dratini. When players approach the game as it was intended, you might get a few zombie-esque enthusiasts weirdly traversing the terrain and pausing awkwardly to flick a few balls on their screen. When some players game the system, however, personal and Pokémon trainers collide.
The video below depicts one such confrontation between Paul, a personal trainer (the camera's perspective), and a Pokémon GO player (identity concealed by Pikachu for his privacy). While Paul might seem like an annoying jerk for most of the video, that quickly changes when you find out one of his clients was hit by a player's car when they were attempting to hatch eggs while driving.
We all know the dangers of texting and driving (it's worse than being drunk!), which naturally extends to a more complex task like playing a multiplayer game, but how many of us follow those rules? I'd love to say I'm better than everyone, but I do text in the car sometimes. I follow a set of rules, like only doing it when the car isn't moving, but there are few reasons we actually need to use our smartphones while operating an automobile in the first place. By nature of being human, we're just kind of dumb sometimes.
But that doesn't make it right or any less problematic, and part of the issues is that Pokémon GO allows this kind of behavior. Niantic instituted a tracking system that measures distance traveled and the player's current walking (or running) speed when attempting to hatch eggs. While practically no one would move faster than seven miles per hour while traveling by foot, the current speed limit is estimated to be somewhere in the range of 10-15.
Driving very slowly, several players realized they could game the system to hatch eggs faster. If you just leave your phone open during a long commute of stop and go traffic, you make that commute suck just a little bit less. Unfortunately, hatching eggs is just a bonus. It doesn't make your commute any less boring—but playing the game might. That's how bad things happen. (You know, like vehicular assault.)
While an aspiring Pokémon GO player just wanted to hatch eggs faster, rather than run over one of Paul's valued clients, playing the game while driving led to that outcome anyhow. It's probably safe to assume gamers aren't playing with malicious intent, but it's also safe to assume that they're dumb.
But only because we all are prone to making stupid, selfish choices. It's one of the built-in "qualities" of humanity. (So is our capacity for forgiveness, but it's just a heck of a lot easier to go for a walk and shut off your phone in the car—like the developers intended.) You probably won't hit someone most of the time you break the rules, but it's one of those things that only needs to happen once to soar to problem levels far beyond that of a slowly-hatching egg.
Beyond all of that, just think about how ridiculous and embarrassing an accident like this could be. "Sorry officer, I didn't mean to accidentally disembowel that nice old lady with my car tire. I was just trying to catch another Eevee to meet my evolution goals." Aside from looking like an idiot, paying various fines, and possible going to prison, you're never going to get that Flareon you were so desperately after.
Talking about vehicular assault and human stupidity gets a little dark, but don't forget: hacks and cheats can be fun! We're certainly fond of them over here, and detailed how to hack Pokémon GO to set your location to anywhere without getting banned for doing it. While this makes for a fun experiment, and has some practical uses, abusing the method gives you a significant advantage over other players. You can't forget about the "great responsibility" tethered to your newfound Poké-powers.
The hack works by allowing you to walk to any location you tap on your screen. It facilitates tricking the game into walking you to that location so you don't have to physically do it yourself and accomplishes this at a natural pace. If you were to teleport to a new location, for example, the game would realize you just performed an impossible feat and soft-ban you for about four hours automatically. So, even if you've somehow learned to teleport, it's probably best to save that skill for something else.
If you use this hack like a good guy with superpowers, you can give yourself access to areas you can't physically reach on your own. Used irresponsibly, like a super villain, you can end up with many strong Pokémon, hatch eggs without moving, and use your advantage to win against other players—who are pretty much just your victims at that point.
Niantic is trying to prevent cheating in Pokémon GO as best they can, but it's impossible for them to close all available exploits. Plus, technology doesn't abuse itself. That's up to us.
For the same reasons we don't tolerate performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports, we need to recognize the dangers of cheating in a massive multiplayer online game (lest we all become the Lance Armstrong of Pokémon GO). Furthermore, because this game takes place in an augmented version of the physical world, we need to pay very close attention to how our cheats, hacks, and workarounds affect others—whether they're playing Pokémon GO or not.
Part of the fun of playing is strategizing, but when things get out of hand we need to collectively chill out a bit. Most of us manage to play the game safely and not causes problems, but we can all go down that dark path the promise of power can offer. Next time you learn a clever hack or fun cheat, just remember to use it in moderation. It's all fun in games until someone finds a dead body, hits a police car, or falls off a cliff. The list goes on, but you get the point... right?