Think twice about giving Pokemon Go-ahead

The frenzied playing of augmented-reality game Pokemon Go abroad makes it increasingly clear that the Singapore authorities should think twice about allowing the game to be played here ("Local fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go", last Thursday).

Apart from the reported incidents of "Pokemon zombies" injuring themselves or others due to poor situational awareness, is it in Singapore's best interests to permit a game over whose targets it has no control?

Pokemon Go should not be played at certain locations for reasons of public safety and human decency.

Schools, hospitals and public transport interchanges should be off limits due to the risk posed by uncontrolled surges of human traffic.

Nor does it befit the dignity of other locations, such as houses of religious worship and cemeteries, to be invaded by gamers blindly chalking up points.

Americans have already objected to the appearance of Pokemon Go characters at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland has had to ask game developer Niantic to exclude the former Nazi death camp from the game to safeguard the solemnity of the site.

At present, Pokemon Go targets are assigned by Niantic. While one can request certain locations to be removed from play, the game developer is not legally obliged to do so and cannot be held accountable for the consequences.

Since private individuals can purchase "Lures" to attract Pokemon Go players to a location, a person could harass someone else by placing a Lure near the victim's home or workplace to attract disruptive crowds.

And in this age of lone-wolf terrorism, an extremist could easily buy a "Lure" to draw players into a low-security zone before launching a mass-casualty attack.

While Pokemon Go is certainly good for getting fans off the couch and out exploring the "real world", Singapore would do well to seek a degree of control over how Niantic assigns its Pokemon targets before letting the game into the country.

Estella Young (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Think twice about giving Pokemon Go-ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe