Jul 12, 2016
With a seeming Japan release imminent for the free-to-play mobile game chart-topper, not everyone is playing Pokémon Go in the right spirit, revealing that virtual reality is a far safer place than actual reality.
Apple and Pokémon Go creators Niantic and Nintendo have been basking in the early success of the game, which has been at the top of the App Store charts since its iPhone release last week.
It’s not all rosy though, as the developers and vendors are seeing others try to get on board the cash cow.
Over in the States, authorities in the state of Missouri reported Sunday, that a group of 4 teenagers used Pokémon Go to lure people to a specific location where they then proceeded to rob them. Police have said that the suspects used a ‘beacon’ to draw gamers to a specific spot of which they were able to anticipate its level of seclusion. The group of teens have since been arrested.
This is the latest in a line of incidents since Pokémon Go’s release that highlight how easily people can give priority to the glow of their mobile device rather than what’s actually going on in the world. Most of it belongs in a slapstick comedy; walking into trees, tripping over, falling into holes, but sometimes it gets people into more disturbing waters, literally. Take for example the Wyoming girl who, in her search for a character from the game, ended up finding a dead body floating in river. I suppose we could call that public service, although I’m not sure the girl feels the same way!
All this begs the question of how Pokémon Go will, err, go down upon its rumoured Japan release. This is a nation already psychotically addicted to smartphones, with trains and train station platforms often resembling some kind of well-dressed zombie apocalypse. Signs warning of the dangers of too much much smartphone gawping are hilariously redundant; everyone’s too busy looking at said smartphones to notice them! Add to this then the incentive of hunting down virtual reality characters, and largely pacifist Japan could well see more incidents like the smartphone based punch up that occurred near Ueno Station earlier this year.
Pokémon Go works by gamers creating an avatar which they control by walking around in the real world. The game uses phones’ GPS to track locations and throw up (virtual) Pokémon for players to catch. In the developer’s own words the platform ‘will use real locations to encourage players to search far and wide in the real world to discover Pokémon’. The combo of real and virtual here, is known as augmented reality.
In Japan, treasure hunts usually come in the form of a stamp rally, with kids accompanied by mom and dad, a map, and an army of volunteers (or sales staff). Although, in many ways, we might consider Japan a safer place than most to go out and explore. Also, any fears that this nation’s hoard of horny salarymen might use the game to rendezvous with high school girls are probably allayed by the fact that those who are into such things are usually too old to know how to get to grips with smartphone at this kind of level.
Pokémon Go is currently only available in the US, Australia, and New Zealand.
Are you excited by prospect of the release of Pokémon Go in Japan?
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I am pretty pumped for this game. I think it has the opportunity to be an annoyance with people getting more glued to their phones while the initial obsession runs its course. But! I think it also has the amazing potential for Gaijin in particular to break the ice with people who have a common interest and make friends, without having to be super bold and just walk up to strangers out of the blue... now I can ask if they've seen any Pikachu in the area.