I don’t know if I should say it. I don’t want to alarm people but. Singapore actually has zombies walking amongst us.
Have you seen them? They walk with their heads down, both hands engaged, feet unsure. And their eyes? That’s the scariest thing. You can’t see them. Why, you ask? How to – when both their eyes are glued to their handphones? Their occasional yelps of victory are quite disconcerting. But honestly, that isn’t so bad compared to the way they congregate in large masses in public. Many avoid them, but sometimes, one of them saunters over and asks, “EH. HERE GOT RARE POKEMON NOT AH?”
Ugh. Pokemon Go players. They make The Walking Dead look like child’s play.
Building on the hype in America and Europe, the mobile game launched to much fanfare in Singapore on 6 August. An ethnographic survey (done by me) on the country’s public transport system, the Singapore Management University campus, and the room I share with my sibling reports that the local population can be accurately classified as either Human-turned-Pokemon-Hunter or surviving Human. There seems to be no in between.
Before I launch into an article saltier than McDonald’s soggy French Fries, the potential for augmented reality (AR) beyond Pokemon Go is huge. It has been proven to capture a large user-demographic, as just we do the Pokemon: literally everybody from kindergarteners conceived long after the franchise was created in 1996 to their great-grandparents are engrossed with the game.
And this game – the one to catch all ‘em Pocket Monsters (or Pokemon for short) – is blind to age, race, gender, nationality and IQ. All one needs is a mobile phone with an internet connection. Given our status with the highest mobile penetration rate and 10th fastest broadband speed in the world, Singapore is well placed for big companies to start experimenting on the AR market. At any rate, retail markets cottoned on quickly; shopping malls like ION Orchard and other shops alike were using virtual Pokemon Lures on all their Pokestops to attract customers to their brick-and-mortar shops. In SMU alone, 90% of the emails I received today about events and booths have some sort of Pokemon Go reference.
The main drawback is that nobody has figured out how to balance mobile, social and physical interaction. More common than not, Pokemon Go players are so engrossed in the AR conduit that they forget the ‘reality’ part. They stop abruptly, and most of the time right in front of you on the sidewalk. Many trail off mid-sentence in a conversation, not just verbally, but physically too on their phones, just to concentrate on catching a nearby Pokemon.
Anecdotes of Pokemon Hunters finding camaraderie in one another are cute, but the same cannot be said for the 70 bags of trash left behind at Yishun Park at night. Astoundingly, there have been precious few local newspaper headlines calling out Pokemon Go players for their erratic street behaviour. As expected, social media steps up wherever traditional media fails. I liken Facebook rants or ‘Pokemon No’ memes to be a modern-day response to scenes in apocalyptic movies where the main character gets desperate to find another Human survivor. “Is anyone out there?” they are crying out, over a non-existent John Williams soundtrack.
Another public gripe is the privacy concerns nobody understands because nobody reads the Terms and Conditions prior to downloading the app. Giving a third-party private company access to track our location at all hours of the day and capture real-time images posits a huge risk. Does no one realise what this permission is permitting?
Thanks to my sibling, Niantic possibly has stored an accurate visual of the dimension of my room, its exit points and a rough idea of the security in my house, which is to say, a toy poodle that bites. At this point, I might as well just stop locking the front door.
For the unimpressed amongst us, one question probes our minds: Will this game die any time soon like other games such as Candy Crush and Bejeweled Blitz that had their heydays years ago? Will people stop throwing Pokeballs on their phones while you are at dinner with them? The answer is: Probably yes. It depends on how fast people will grow bored when elusive Pokemon continue to evade them or flee away. Many have fond memories of the game while it was still on the Gameboy consoles, but the burning facts of the missing storyline and non-existent bond with your first starter Pokemon (Charmander; Chimchar; Treecko!) may be the game’s downfall.
Cynical as this article is, Pokemon Go is still a major success in propelling the AR market. It does not matter whether some players call Magikarp ‘the lame Fish Pokemon’ or that many won’t be able to name you the Pokemon series’ protagonist CORRECTLY if you gave them a choice between Ash Ketchum and Ash Ketchup – they are but just the latest to be kept in the thrall to modern technology. Who knows? You could be next, especially if you are a Potterhead. Rumors of a Harry Potter Go might just soon be Accio-ed your way.