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The View From Asia

Pokemon Go: Beyond the game, real-life concerns abound

The new augmented-reality game app captivating users has also sparked interest among both potential investors and security watchers. Here are excerpts from three commentaries in Asia News Network (ANN) papers.

Players must be careful

Editorial
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The globally popular smartphone game Pokemon Go has now been released in Japan.

After downloading the game app free of charge, a player is able to view his surroundings with the smartphone's camera and catch virtual characters that appear on the screen by hitting them with a ball.

The game developers include The Pokemon Company, an affiliate of Nintendo. The app has attracted attention as a new type of game in which virtual characters are collected as gamers walk around towns and cities.

The number of people playing Pokemon Go in the United States has reached about 23 million per day, which is said to be a record high for a smartphone game.

The current Pokemon Go craze is a good example of content that originated in Japan being loved overseas.

A positive economic effect can also be expected. If the locations for acquiring virtual tools to catch Pokemon are set in such establishments as restaurants, it will help to attract customers. For example, McDonald's Japan has announced a tie-up with Pokemon Go.


People have been injured in accidents while playing Pokemon Go. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Nintendo stock price briefly hit the 30,000 yen ( S$390) level for the first time in six years. Related stocks also fared well. It is hoped the current craze will reinvigorate the game industry.

On the other hand, many concerns have also been expressed.

In the US, a series of incidents have occurred in which players, distracted by the smartphone's screen, suffered injuries as they bumped into signboards and other objects. There have also been cases in which accidents have occurred as players were absorbed in playing the game while they were driving, or fell from a cliff after losing their footing.

In Japan, too, looking at smartphones while walking has become a major issue, and there is concern about whether Pokemon Go will exacerbate the problem.

Railway companies are nervous about the possibility of accidents occurring on station platforms.

It can be anticipated that players will enter places unfit for the game. In the US, Pokemon appeared at such locations as a memorial at the site of terrorist attacks in New York and at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, with the facilities' operators expressing discomfort.

The game app provider is required to sort out dangerous sites and unfit facilities for playing the game and work out software configurations that will exclude such locations from the game. At home, parents must tell children how to stay safe when they play the game.

The big Pokemon chase

Peter Liang
China Daily, Hong Kong

Pokemon Go has finally caught up with Hong Kong, and the craze it has stirred among the thousands of local fans has not gone unnoticed by investors and business people.

Investors may not have the time to play the reality game which has proved to be a huge success. They are quick to ferret out not the genies, but rather the investment opportunities the online game may be generating.

In the United States, where Pokemon Go was launched earlier, the game now has more daily users on Android phones than Twitter - the favourite social media app - according to app analytics firm SimilarWeb, which says that players, who go around hunting Pokemon, spend an average 43 minutes daily on the game.

Even pornography, an enduring Internet fascination, has been overtaken by Pokemon Go, a BBC report says. The report also notes that Google searches worldwide for Pokemon Go are almost on a par with those for Brexit on the day Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Some malls and restaurants in cities hit by Pokemon Go fever are trying to boost traffic by turning themselves into Pokemon hunting grounds, or Pokestops, for the rare and favourite monsters. The BBC said share prices of McDonald's Japan have soared on media reports of a tie-up with Nintendo in the launch of Pokemon Go in Japan.

The report adds that such cooperation will turn some sponsored fast-food restaurant chains in Japan into Pokestops, where players can find new monsters. The move is said to be able to propel traffic at McDonald's outlets, serving as a model for a similar sponsorship in other markets.

McDonald's Hong Kong has said it has no such arrangement with Nintendo. But that doesn't mean that other potential sponsors aren't interested. In London, for instance, more and more restaurants are signing up as Pokestops. To the chagrin of the police, rumours have it that there's a Pokestop at the police headquarters in Wan Chai.

Proceed with caution

Editorial
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Beyond the obvious risks of being hit by a car, falling into a ravine, being shot at for trespassing or the wholesale detachment from the real, physical world, there's a clear and present danger that comes from playing the wildly popular new augmented-reality game, Pokemon Go.

To play Pokemon Go, players can choose to sign in through Google - which used to own the game's developer Niantic Labs - or through the website Pokemon Trainer Club, which is currently suspended. And this is when the problem begins.

Many have expressed concerns that the game requires full access to your Google account when you sign in, meaning that although the Internet search engine giant does not have access to people's passwords or payment information, it can read your e-mails, see what you have been searching for and a whole host of other online activities.

But even if you're not troubled by a third party eavesdropping on your private online conversations, there are other things that should give you pause before joining the merry band of Pokemon Go players.

The game uses Google Maps and players' real-world GPS locations to direct them to Pokemon. This should really scare people off because the consequences from misuse of such information are real.

There are already reports of robbers using the game to lure victims by activating "lure modules", which players can use to attract both Pokemon and other players to their location. This may sound alarmist, but the world out there is already a dangerous place for our kids with the presence of child molesters and lurking rapists.

And then there's the bigger question; what if Pokemon Go poses a threat to security?

On Monday, the army took no chances and arrested a Frenchman who trespassed onto a military base in Cirebon, West Java, while playing Pokemon Go. In China, a conspiracy theory has emerged, surmising that Japan and the United States are collaborating via Pokemon Go to work out where Chinese military bases are.

We should not lend credence to such paranoia but, given the above mentioned risks, we should proceed to use Pokemon Go with caution.


  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner ANN, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Pokemon Go: Beyond the game, real-life concerns abound'. Print Edition | Subscribe