Pokemon Go baffled Canadian military

A user playing Pokemon Go - the augmented-reality game which fuses digital technology with the physical world - at New York's Central Park in 2016. After the app was available in Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces issued a public warning, urging civil
A user playing Pokemon Go - the augmented-reality game which fuses digital technology with the physical world - at New York's Central Park in 2016. After the app was available in Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces issued a public warning, urging civilians to avoid military property when searching for Pokemon.PHOTO: NYTIMES

TORONTO • Seemingly out of nowhere, civilians started driving onto Canadian military bases at odd hours and wandering onto government property in July 2016, distracted by their cellphone screens.

Military officials did not know what to make of it.

Pokemon Go, the augmented-reality game, had soared to the top of the download charts. Within weeks, millions of people were chasing the digital animated creatures all over the world and going to places they should not go.

More than three years later, Canadian military officials have shared internal documents with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News Network showing how the military, both curious and confused, reacted to the wildly popular app.

Major Jeff Monaghan, an official based in Kingston, Ontario, wrote in an e-mail: "Plse (sic) advise the Commissionaires that apparently Fort Frontenac is both a Pokegym and a Pokestop. I will be completely honest in that I have no idea what that is."

At least three military police officers, stationed at different bases, were assigned to wander around with smartphones and notepads in hand to search for Pokemon, Pokestops and Pokegyms, according to the documents.

Users can find Pokeballs at Pokestops, use their Pokeballs to capture Pokemon, and train and join teams at Pokegyms.

"We should almost hire a 12-year-old to help us out with this," Mr David Levenick, a security expert at a military base in Borden, Ontario, wrote in an e-mail.

Weeks after the app became available, Canadian officials noticed an increase in suspicious activity.

One woman was found on a military base as three children with her climbed on tanks. She was playing Pokemon Go.

Police responded to a vehicle that was "acting suspiciously" in a parking lot on a military base in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, only to find a handful of Pokemon chasers.

 
 

And when another man was stopped on a military base, he was also using the app and told officials he was trying to get more points than his children, according to the military documents obtained by CBC News.

Shortly after the app was available, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) issued a public warning, urging civilians to avoid military property when searching for Pokemon.

Soon after, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service sent a criminal intelligence advisory to all military police officers: "It has been discovered that several locations within DND/CAF establishments are host to game landmarks (Pokestops and gyms) and its mythical digital creatures (Pokemon)."

CBC News filed an access to information request at the time and, more than three years later, the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) released 471 pages of internal documents related to the game.

The normal response time should be up to 60 days, according to legislation, but a defence department spokesman said the review process was slowed by the number of requests received.

The game - and the unusual civilian behaviour it brought - was met with mixed reaction across Canada's military bases, according to the documents.

Officials in North Bay filed a complaint with Niantic, the gaming start-up that teamed with the Pokemon company to make Pokemon Go, stating a Pokestop location on the base would increase traffic and negatively affect the base's mission, according to CBC News.

Other military officials were more optimistic about the increased foot traffic. "Maybe some extra people will visit the museum!" Major Alicia Saucier wrote of the military base in Petawawa, Ontario.

 
 

Pokemon Go, which fuses digital technology with the physical world, allowed players to use their smartphones to find Pokeballs, Pokemon gyms and Pokemon, the exotic monsters from the Japanese franchise.

The app assured new users that "Pokemon can be found in every corner of the Earth". And that quickly caused problems.

In search of digital animated creatures, users flocked to areas they should not have gone, including memorials, cemeteries and military bases. There were also reported injuries and fatalities connected to the game.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2020, with the headline 'Pokemon Go baffled Canadian military'. Print Edition | Subscribe