Augmented Reality Gamer Detained By Police

For years now, in blog posts and in speeches across the country, I have been warning about the real-world implications of augmented reality games.  Primarily, I’ve focused on the risk of getting physically hurt while playing these virtual games.

An excerpt from my slides at ARE2012

But I’ve also shared the story of an incident that happened only a few miles from my home.  A group of teens were running through a neighborhood yard shooting at each other with Airsoft guns (which, if you don’t know, are like paintball except more realistic and with smaller, softer pellets).  A passing police officer mistook the toy guns for real ones, and fired his (real) weapon at the teen. (Fortunately, he missed.)  The lesson: be wary of the impression you make on others–and especially on police officers–as you walk through public places interacting with digital objects that no one else can see.

Now an actual player in a real AR game has learned that lesson first-hand.  Reddit user Eheaubaut was walking the streets of his city playing Ingress, the popular new Android-only AR game recently launched by Google.  Although stopping to point his phone for a long period of time at the local police station gained him an advantage in the game, it was predictably suspicious to the officers inside.  He writes:

I was out capturing some portals (I live in a medium sized city and only one other person is playing that I noticed, only one portal was taken.). And I walk by the police station and notice that the portal was still free! So I grabbed it. then my phone locked up. I restart it, and load the game back up when a cop noticed me, shouted to me and arrested me. Apparently sitting near a police station for about 5 minutes with a GPS view of the surrounding area with little blue blips on the screen is a red flag. I was in a holding cell for nearly 3 hours explaining to them it’s just a game by google. Strangest night ever.

A friend who is very influential in tech circles alerted me to this post, writing: “Your prognostications about augmented reality legal troubles have begun to come true.”

One thing is for sure: this is only the first of many such incidents to come.