Can a property owner have their Pokémon Gym status removed?

Written by: Jared M.

Sometimes comedy happens in the places where the virtual world and the real world overlap. Did you hear about the Massachusetts man whose house got listed as a Pokémon gym? It sounds like the intro to a joke, and it sort of is.

Boon Sheridan a UX designer, self-proclaimed ‘flipper of coins, maker of cocktails, and spinner of tales,’ — also clearly a man with eccentric tastes in living spaces — moved into a renovated 1800s-era church last year that had been converted into a house some 40 years ago. As he explained in a July 10 article published in Buzzfeed News, Sheridan and his wife like places that are different, and once lived in a converted convenience store. For someone whose profession revolves around the user-focused aspects of the tech industry, it doesn’t seem unusual for Sheridan to be counted among the millions of smartphone users who downloaded the recently-released Pokémon Go app. But, as soon as Sheridan opened the game, he found that the virtual reality ecosystem of Pokémon Go had listed his home as one of the game’s coveted training gyms, adding and unexpected form of uniqueness to his home. As the Buzzfeed piece explains, Sheridan first thought, “that can’t be right.” But when groups of mostly teenagers and kids started showing up in droves the next morning to sit outside his house while staring into their phone, he knew he was in for an entertaining, and possibly annoying experience.

How did Sheridan’s house get marked as a gym?

The makers of the Pokémon Go game, Niantic Labs, designated many churches as gyms. Sheridan told Buzzfeed he thinks that’s why his house also showed up as a gym despite the fact that his house hasn’t been a church for several decades. That fact raises a few questions, about the age of the databases the Pokémon ecosystem was built around. If a change in property status dating back 40 years wasn’t included in whatever database Niantic built the Pokémon Go ecosystem around, where else are situations like Sheridan’s cropping up? However it happened, it created an endless stream of Pokémon gamers moving through Sheridan’s property at all hours. In any case, Sheridan’s Twitter feed reveals two things. One is that he’s been a good sport about the whole situation, all things considered. He even tweeted about how he had gone outside to meet the Pokémon player who owned the gym located in his house. The other revelation is that because of his UX expertise, his insights and criticisms of virtual-reality and augmented-reality games should be a boon — pun intended — to future game makers.

How would a Pokémon Gym status impact a property owner?

Sheridan’s situation, his Twitter feed, and some of his criticisms show us that where the virtual world and the real world overlap, other issues overlap as well, namely liability. For instance, Niantic Labs’ Pokemon Go support page includes a list of Pokémon Go Trainer guidelines, which includes a section outlining how the company intends to enforce their rules. It’s a nice goodwill nod toward the ideas of responsibility and accountability, but enforcement amounts to nothing more than penalties and suspensions within the game. Meanwhile, where the real world gets impacted, the law stops short of holding software companies like Niantic Labs liable for the conduct of game users. But homeowners like Sheridan could still be held liable for incidents that occur on their property and find themselves shouldering the burden of responsibility alone. The way an article published on the UK news site, independent.co.uk explains, “Mr Sheridan pointed out that the problems could easily lead to the value of his house going down and issues with his neighbours. The strange behaviour of people around his location — people turning up at all times and then leaving soon after — could easily lead people to speculate that drug dealing or other crime was happening there.”

Can a property owner have their Pokémon Gym status removed?

Niantic Labs has included reporting protocols for users to follow when they want gyms and Pokéstops removed. But as imore.com, who published Niantic’s reporting process, explains, there’s no guarantee your request will be accepted. And so far, there appears to be a bit of a debate over whether or not homeowner’s requests will be acknowledged at all.

The independent.co.uk article states that “it isn’t possible to have your own house removed from Pokémon Go. Niantic only allows people to report locations if they present “immediate physical danger”, and makes it clear that requests to have them removed “for other reasons cannot be addressed at this time”.” However, there are at least anecdotally confirmed instances of having gym status removed from properties where the game caused problems. The steps to report problems with a gym or Pokéstop are printed below.

Report an issue with a Gym or PokéStop from inside the Pokémon Go app

To request removal of your house or other private location from the game, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Poké Ball at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Inside the settings menu, tap Report High-Priority Issue. The next steps require a redirect to the Niantic website, outside the app.
  4. Tap Yes to leave the app.
  5. Tap Report an issue with a Gym or PokéStop.
  6. Fill in all the requested information.

If you’re not in the middle of playing the game, you can skip the first four steps and just go online straight to the Niantic Labs website.

Report an issue with a Gym or PokéStop from outside the Pokémon Go app

  1. Go to the Niantic Labs support page for reporting an issue with a Gym or PokéStop. You can find that here.
  2. When the form pops up, fill out the requested information.
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