Northern Ireland news

Pokemon Go takes the north (and the Irish News) by storm

The Irish News in Belfast is one of the dozens of 'Pokestops' in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Gareth McKeown

The global phenomenon Pokemon Go smartphone app is a hit in Northern Ireland and even the Irish News is a part of it.

The virtual reality treasure hunt where players collect monsters that appear on the screen was made available in the UK on Thursday following its launch in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Already it has risen to the top of the UK free-to download chart, while an estimated 7.5 million people have it installed on their phones in America alone.

The mobile app, which features characters from the popular cartoon series Pokemon, lets players roam a map using their phone's GPS location data and catch different creatures to train and battle.

In Belfast the John McKay plaque on the Irish News building is a `Pokestop' - a location where players have to visit to get certain items they need to play the game.

Other Belfast landmarks including Ulster University campus, the Celtic cross at St Anne's Cathedral as well as local art sculptures and murals across the city also carry this status.

Pokemon are appearing all over the north as players walk around cities, towns and villages.

In light of the game's ever-growing popularity the PSNI has issued a stern warning.

"I know this trend is taking the world by storm at the minute but please be careful when trying to catch the wee critters as they are appearing on sides of roads and in busy built up areas," a spokesman said.

Already in California two men suffered moderate injuries after falling over a cliff while playing.

Police have also urged Pokemon hunters to drive safely.

"The message from police is 'don't Poke and drive' and that pedestrians should always look both ways before crossing at Pokestops," the spokesman added.

This message has been echoed by motoring experts the RAC who have said the growth of the game is "yet another reason" why motorists may concentrate more on their smartphones instead of the road in front of them.

"The Pokemon Go revolution could take the illegal use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel to another level," RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said.

"It has to be Pokemon no-go when driving but it is just as important that pedestrians don't get caught in the Pokemon mist and find themselves stepping into the path of danger.

"This feels like a whole new level of gaming addiction and yet another reason for people to be glued to their smartphones instead of looking where they are going," he added.

An RAC study published earlier this year found that almost two-thirds of motorists witnessed at least one driver using their phone illegally during their last hour on the road.

About 6 per cent of the 2,120 people polled reported seeing between five and seven drivers breaking the law in this way.

In 2014 the use of a mobile phone was a contributing factor in 21 fatal accidents and 84 which were classed as serious, according to Department for Transport (DfT) statistics for Britain.

The British government is currently examining responses to a consultation held earlier this year which proposed introducing tougher punishments for drivers caught using their phone behind the wheel.

Ministers are considering raising penalty points for those caught from three to four, while fines could rise 50 per cent to £150.

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