Location-based augmented reality games--which require players to be physically present at a location to see and interact with certain digital content--are growing in popularity. But this mainstream appeal has led to some chance encounters that have some players wondering whether they could get in hot water for making the wrong sort of teammates.
One case in point: Last week, Niantic Labs' Ingress--by far the most popular such game to date, but certainly not the only one out there--went out of Beta testing. Droves of curious players are now trying it out.
But this led an anonymous local player to recently share with me the following thoughts:
One of the old timers (Ingress calls any Beta player who reached level 5 or higher a "founder") was talking to a new player in the in-game team chat system (called the "comms"), doing what we all often do for new players... offering to drop them gear to help them level up, and even going on an "AP run" which is the Ingress equivalent of a lioness chewing up a wilderbeast a little so her cubs can learn to catch it.
Other players were trying to get his attention because they knew the new player in question was a 12 year old girl.
So yeah, some 30-something guy was unknowingly soliciting a rendezvous with a young minor. Honest mistake, but it opens up a number of questions.
You probably know better than me that I think all player interactive games have an EULA requiring them to be at least 13 years old. So while 13 year olds game against 30 year olds every day, forming clans, chatting on audio services like TeamSpeak, that has come to be accepted as okay as long as someone isn't trying to do something illegal.
But now you have a game in physical places you must physically be at. On one hand it seems stupid and silly for it to be taboo for say a 16 year old with a couple twenty-somethings to walk around and hit some public portals. But people are really touchy, so... dammit I don't know.
Social meetings (often in bars) has been a really big aspect of the community of the game. Even when the President of Niantic was in town they rented out a wing of the Grand Trunk Pub downtown.
How the game has changed so quickly. Sigh.
So, could adult players end up in trouble for using AR games to schedule a rendezvous with a minor? Should teens be wary of playing the games (to the extent that teens are wary about anything)?
The best answer to both questions is probably "only to the same extent they would in other, non-game circumstances." But players of all ages should keep their heads about them, about these and other issues. Just because it's a game doesn't necessarily make it a good idea to meet up with strangers at night, for example. And if you're an adult who happens to connect with a younger person, it's probably smart to remain in public view at all times. (As it happens, virtually all Ingress portals are tied to public landmarks of one form or another--but different games will work differently.)
As for this player's concern that the influx of new, mainstream players will change the game's close-knit social dynamic, though, don't all communities change over time? Besides, I've seen the depth of involvement from these players all over Google+. I think the devotees will do just fine.