A local college baseball player shot and killed in Aquatic Park on Saturday night while playing the popular mobile phone game “Pokemon Go” points to the murky area of responsibility of companies whose virtual spaces encounter real world crimes.
Calvin Riley, 20, was fatally shot shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday. His family and friends remembered him Sunday for his love of baseball, his sense of humor and his kindness, they told the San Francisco Examiner.
“He was also a guy who earned your respect because he was mature and friendly and hardworking,” said Collin Theroux, an Oklahoma State University student who knew Riley when they both attended Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo.
Riley was playing Pokemon Go when he was shot and killed, according to his cousin, Thaddeus Riley of Nashville Tennessee.
Thaddeus Riley was outraged, called the game “stupid,” and wrote in a Facebook post Sunday, “I think they made this game for all the wrong intentions.”
He continued, “Look at it this game has made people savages,” and “now because of” the game, “my little cuzzo is gone!!!! … We all love you cal. I’m so glad we got to visit with you. But still was not enough.”
Neither Niantic, Inc. nor Nintendo of America responded to requests for comment.
Friends and family confirmed Riley was the male victim the San Francisco Police Department said was shot in Aquatic Park Saturday night. The SFPD responded at 9:51 p.m. to a report of a possible shooting, according to the department, and found Riley suffering from a bullet wound to his torso.
He received first aid but died, according to SFPD. The case is now being investigated by the U.S. Park Police.
The game, which tasks players with hunting virtual “pocket monsters” by following a Google Map to real world locations called “Pokestops,” is under a microscope nationally for crimes related to the game.
Niantic, Inc., the San Francisco-based company that developed Pokemon Go for Nintendo, has added warnings to the game since it came out. In one recent software update, the game began displaying the message, “Do not trespass while playing Pokemon GO” to players each time they log into the game.
That warning may be in response to incidents like that of two Ohio players who, according to the Associated Press, allegedly broke into an Ohio zoo after hours to hunt for Pokemon.
Patricia Hernandez, deputy editor of video game news site Kotaku, told the Examiner that Pokemon Go’s augmented reality —— blending video games with real world elements —— occupies a “tricky space.”
“It raises an ethical question of how much responsibility should rest on Niantic’s shoulders, and how much of it is actually just the user’s fault?” she said. “There are definitely times when a Pokestop lands in questionable spaces, and the question becomes less cut and dry.”
Notably, the game draws players out at night to catch nocturnal pocket monsters, and to specific real world locations to catch more rare monsters.
Hernandez also noted that Pokemon Go’s outrageous popularity —— reaching more than 100 million downloads on the Android app store in just a month —— raises its own questions about Niantic’s responsibility to players.
“It’s also this sort of funny thing where, if literally everyone is playing the game, Pokemon Go becomes almost incidental to some crimes” and incidents, she said.
On the Go Fund Me page seeking donations to help pay for Riley’s memorial, Gabriel Morales (who called himself Riley’s cousin and best friend) wrote Riley was killed by a “coward” who wanted to “shoot up a Poke stop.” The fund has raised $24,945 of a $30,000 goal as of Sunday evening.
Authorities have not commented on a motive for the shooting.
Riley moved from Lowell, Mass. with his family to San Mateo where he attended Junipero Serra High School. In a statement, Serra Athletic Director Dean Ayoob called Riley a “wonderful young man who was full of life.” Riley then attended San Joaquin Delta College, where he played baseball for the Mustangs.
Reed Peters, head coach of the Mustangs, said Riley initially wanted to play infield but when the Mustangs needed a pitcher, he stepped in —— and excelled. He was key in launching the Mustangs into the Final Four, a baseball championship of the top four community colleges out of more than 100.
Peters said Riley’s 88 MPH fastball and “attitude” made for a perfect closer, and he was “definitely starting to get some interest” from Division 1 baseball scouts.
“It’s a sad, sad day in the Delta (college) baseball family and [for] everyone who knew Calvin, really,” Peters said. “He did everything he wanted to do. The kind of kid you want yours to grow up to be. The bigger the challenge the better a person he was.”
Riley is survived by his parents, Sean and Kariann, and younger siblings Justin and Bria, according to a biography on the Mustangs website.
Kim-Mai Cutler, a columnist at tech industry news outlet Techcrunch, said many tech companies evolved in how they deal with real-world problems like crime over time.
Now-juggernaut Airbnb faced the scandal of homes that were rented and then later trashed as far back as 2011, she said. But they followed up within a week by apologizing and offering a $50,000 guarantee. By 2014 Airbnb offered $1 million liability insurance in the U.S.
And while Pokemon is a property of video game juggernaut Nintendo, the actual developer of Pokemon Go —— Niantic, inc. —— is a small company, Cutler said. “I’m sure they’ve been overwhelmed” with the success of the game, she said.
Still, she added, “If this is an issue they expect to see again, they’ll probably need plans around it.”
Bay City News contributed to this report.