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.


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  • bdwassom

    This comment comes from Glen Carl in the “Society of Augmented Reality Professionals” LinkedIn group:

    “Great article. I
    recommend putting disclaimers on games to provide warning. May even need to
    provide some guidance for what to do if arrested.”

    • teamdave™

      this is just one incident though. there are a few hundred thousand people playing this around the world every day that have not got arrested. it doesnt make sense to start clogging up the game with common sense messages and instructions just because a one person in one specific country got arrested

      • Keandre Espina

        It doesn’t have to. Just put it in the ToS… Oh wait, nobody reads those.

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  • media12329

    The problem here isn’t with AR, it’s with US law that allows teens to play on the street with realistic looking guns; no wonder it spooks the police! It wouldn’t be allowed in the UK, but then we don’t carry guns and neither do our police (mostly).

    • Brian Wassom

      Perhaps, but here the player was using a smartphone, not a toy gun.

    • majestic12

      The kids with air guns had nothing to do with the AR game. Totally separate incident used to illustrate the idea of being aware of how others perceive your intentions in public places.

      • bdwassom

        agreed, thanks.

    • Joe Nickence

      Just to let folks know, the US law has been modified so that any type of toy weapon needs to have a distinct, visible orange tip on it’s muzzle of the barrel.

  • bdwassom

    Austin Kotynski in the LinkedIn group “Immersive 3D Environments & Augmented Reality” writes:

    Wow…I agree, ”
    this is only the first of many such incidents to come.”

    • bdwassom

      Austin writes further:

      I do think disclaimers should be necessary to avoid issues like this, but these incidents
      will still occur I’m sure. I still like the idea of these games out in public,
      with moral ‘physical’ goals involved in the game itself. It reminds me of, make
      a list, and do a scavenger hunt around your city…trying to buy as many items
      that you can with 100 pennies, and getting a book of matches from a

  • Joe Nickence

    I agree that some AR games will become troublesome. But the problem doesn’t stem from the players. Rather, it’s poor programming on the part of the company. Why in heavens name are players required to capture portals from a police station? It’s the police’s business to be suspicious of anyone pointing anything at their station. Simply relocate these portals that involve any type of civil/military locations, and that particular problem is almost eliminated!

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  • kara

    I think another danger with AR could be the blending of fiction with reality, especially for people who may have issues telling the difference. That being said, I think it can add an intriguing level of interaction and depth to storytelling. For example, the digital series “Guidestones” places clues in many of the episodes which lead viewers to additional content and brings the story further into reality.