IT'S BEEN BARELY A WEEK since the launch of Pokémon Go — the smartphone app and game that exploded into popularity with a speed and impact that no other app has ever matched. It smudges the line between video games and the real world. And the part of the real world that's been the most impacted has been transportation.
Released last Wednesday, Pokémon Go is a mobile phone game that lets you catch over 150 Pokémon, colorful and cute cartoon monsters that are found everywhere around you, from your breakfast nook to the local chemist to abandoned bridge underpasses. When you stumble upon one of these critters, they appear in your phone's camera app, as though they were really sitting atop your office desk. It's a technique called augmented reality (AR), which overlays the visual elements of a virtual world over the real world. To catch 'em all, players must physically venture far and wide, making walking treks and riding buses and driving across town with the dream of becoming a Pokémon master.
The part of the real world that's been the most impacted has been transportation.
Pokémon is hardly new: The original game launched on Nintendo's Game Boy 20 years ago, and the series has gone on to become one of Nintendo's most recognisable, popular, and profitable franchises. Since its original release in 1996, countless sequel games, spinoffs, movies, and TV series have been released.
But Pokémon Go has triggered a wave of Pokémania that hasn't been seen since the pop culture empire's initial debut back in the '90s. The new app has more daily users than Twitter and more social engagements than Facebook.
Since the game depends so heavily on real world elements, it's developed extremely sticky relationships with public transit and how people get from point A to point B. Some of it's funny, some of it's charming, and some of it is downright dangerous. Here are eight weird ways the fad of the year has intertwined with transportation.
1. Police view it as a safey hazard. Authorities around the world are warning players not to drive around whilst combing the neighbourhood for a hard-to-find Pikachu. London's Richmond Police released a statement that, while humourous, addresses the very real peril of Pokémon Go users absent-mindedly swerving their cars into high-risk situations, or distractedly ambling into someplace you might get hurt. ("Squirtle won't want you to swim in the Thames.")
2. And they should, because people are already getting into car accidents. With one hand on Pokémon Go and the other on a steering wheel, players are already crashing on the road. One man drove his car into a tree whilst looking for one elusive catch. Another player crashed into a police car in Quebec while distractedly playing the game.
3. And yet, metro systems are encouraging it. The Los Angeles Metro launched a Pokémon Go Twitter account that tells Angelenos where rare monsters can be found in LA's transit system. "Walk, bike and ride to catch 'em all!" the account's bio reads, before warning Pokéfans to be aware of their surroundings. Metro will give hints as to where to catch Pokémon around stations and on trains, and encourages riders to send AR pics of Meowths on train seats to the official Twitter to be shared. It's all in good fun — and an attempt to get more people to pay to ride the LA subway.
4. People are hiring Pokémon Go chauffeurs. Why risk crashing your car, when you can pay someone to drive you around as you nab the best Pokémon the streets have to offer? That's what some people are doing. Craigslist is populated with drivers-for-hire willing to take paying strangers on "Pokétours" for $15 an hour. (We're wondering if the game might cause Uber to go into surge pricing as the masses simultaneously flock to the other side of town to catch a particularly coveted beast.)
5. Small businesses are seeing skyrocketing pedestrian patrons. City dwellers already ditch cars for walking, but now Pokémon Go is encouraging urbanists to walk even more, and it's been an income boon to cities' mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. The increased foot traffic boosted one New York pizzeria's business by 75%, and local businesses are cashing in on having ended up as hotspots in the game for hard-to-find creatures or items that aid players in their hunt. ("Pokémon are for paying customers only.")
6. People are using vehicles for nefarious purposes. Police in the US state of Missouri posted a report on Facebook that detailed an unsavoury scheme that combined Pokémon and car culture: A group of men lured players to a car park near a petrol station, where the men had erected a sort of lure that temporarily attracts many Pokémon to catch. When players arrived, the men jumped out of a BMW and robbed them at gunpoint.
7. It's encouraging sprawling road trips. One Reddit user detailed their four-hour, multi-town pilgrimage that received over a whopping 8,000 upvotes on the site, and gave Go players over a dozen tips, like how much data and battery you could expect to deplete on a similar odyssey of your own. Niantic, the Google startup that developed the game for Nintendo, hasn't been incredibly forthcoming with gameplay advice and details, so internet users are taking to the road themselves to pass on knowhow to fellow addicts of the game.
8. It's getting people out and about. Some would argue that Go stokes face-to-face interaction, an increased desire to take advantage of public transit, and generally makes people more mobile and engaged in the world around them, especially when most video games keep your bum planted on the couch. It's hard to argue the point that Pokémon Go has a lot of benefits for cities, businesses, and transit systems... so long as you keep your eyes up and don't stumble into a rubbish bin.
If you would like to comment on this or anything else you have seen on BBC Autos, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter. And while you're at it, join the BBC Autos community on Instagram.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Autos, Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.