Poke Mess

By now, most of us would have heard of Pokemon Go. Unless you’re chilling on an island and living off the grid, chances are, the intense media coverage on the app should register. For the last month and change, the Pokemon craze has invaded the online world. The frenzy has taken off across continents, regardless of whether you’re young or young at heart. Here, I consider this cute, if annoying, game. Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t played Pokemon Go. However, I’ve heard a lot about it, from a variety of sources. For a week after its release, the nightly news always had a scoop for the latest on the Pokemon game. You also can’t imagine what the web could offer for information.

Pokemon Go was first launched on 6 July of this year in Australia, New Zealand and the US. Other countries would soon follow, including originator Japan, in late July. The game, developed by Niantic, is based on the popular TV series. I feel nostalgic talking about the game, as this brings me back to my earlier years, when I would tune in to the program on free to air TV. The game per se has simple rules, but is hard to master. Lending their catchphrase, “gotta catch ’em all”, the goal is to catch and evolve all 151 Pokemon. Whether it means nurturing your Pokemon or battling for others in Pokemon gyms, it’s entertainment 3.0, or that of the new decade. The fun doesn’t end there though. In order to promote physical activity with the game, users must fetch the Pokemon from designated Pokestops. Here they could also get Poke Balls, eggs, potions and whatnot. Capturing these Pokemon is also a tough hurdle, as some are notoriously hard to fetch, while others such as Abra[1]would flee if not caught at once. There are other pitfalls to this exercise. Firstly, finding Pokestops utilises your phone’s GPS. While going outdoors and catching Magicarp sounds pleasant enough, think about the personal information you’re unwittingly sharing. For instance, the app had asked for full access to your Google account. This has since been fixed, with an update subsequently requesting only your basic profile, ‘in line with the data we actually assess’. The sheer volume of personal data collated in the first week of release is enough to send shivers down my spine.

Another drawback is the Pokestops themselves. While I would be the first to agree that a little more walking doesn’t hurt, the lengths at which people would go to catch em is ridiculous. We’ve seen how these players have camped outside homes, parks, and historical monuments. They have huddled near Darwin police station, the cops disbelieving their misfortune. There have even been reports of drivers playing while at the wheel. While the fun after much anticipation is understandable[2], there is a fine line between patronage and creepiness. If you’re hanging around the War Memorial at 2am, then you need to get a life. Moreover, churchgoing has been a spillover of the Poke craze. While some religious leaders have spoken out against Pokemon, most religious groups have welcomed the influx of gyro sensor-toting fellows. This is reminiscent of a Simpsons episode I saw years ago. The summer heat was incredible, so Springfield Elementary decides to turn on the air-cons[3]. When school is in session, some perennial slackers turn up, including Archie and Jughead[4].

Which leaves us to this: the real cost of the game. The game may be costly; it’s free to download in Australia, but optional extras[5] keep the manufacturers focused. Boasting an augmented reality premise, the game has blurred the lines between private and public sphere, and between reality and fantasy. The app has been a money making machine for Niantic[6]. Sometimes, mere affinity with the brand is enough to make monster gains on the stock market. Nintendo, the game’s traditional creator, saw their stock has risen to dizzying heights upon the game’s release[7]. We’re talking bout trillions of Yen. When the lack of a real connection caught up with them, the trillions were promptly wiped off. The game’s benefits, including more physical activity, have been highlighted above. However, this added exertion is also the app’s weak point. There are signs though that Pokemon Go will endure, including here in Australia. With the Google sign in addressed, 3 Pokestops had likewise been removed from Rhodes in response to complaints from fed up residents. Yet even if the app accesses but your basic Google information, you have to wonder: how about my camera? How about your location? It’s your privacy versus Pokemon; take your pick: there is no grey area. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[1] if not caught with the first throw, Abra is likely history

[2] this is the first mobile version on the game, compatible with Android and Apple smartphones, unlike before, which only featured Nintendo consoles

[3] air conditioners

[4] of Archie comics fame

[5] some expensive

[6] total sales for the first week of release has been more than that of any other app ever

[7] people thought they were behind this new version

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