When Pokémon Go launched in the summer of 2016, it set off a frenzy of activity: Kids and adults stumbling around fields and apartment complexes and trespassing on private property in the hopes of catching a Charmander. It also led to a rash of injuries and close calls as players kept their eyes glued to their phones as they tried to navigate the real world.
Now, a new working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research attempts to tally up the damage that Pokémon Go hath wrought. In “Death by Pokémon GO: The Economic and Human Cost of Using Apps While Driving,” Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell examined police accident reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, in the 148 days following the release of the mobile game. The pair estimates that “the incremental county-wide cost of users playing Pokémon GO while driving to be in the range of $5.2 to $25.5 million” over that time span. “Extrapolating these estimates to nation-wide levels yields a total ranging from $2.0 to $7.3 billion.” Expensive game!
There are a few caveats to note here. First, this is a working paper, so the conclusions aren’t necessarily definitive. Secondly, the monetary figures in this cost imply damage to property and equipment, but the research also takes into account the loss of human life. Two fatalities contained in the data set were given an estimated combined worth of $3.8 million. If we assume that the total damage fell somewhere around the $5.2 million lower boundary, then the two deaths accounted for more than three-quarters of the financial loss. Anyway, don’t drive and use your smartphone at the same time.