The Social Phenomenon That Is Pokemon Go

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Crazy, just crazy.

When Google did an April Fools prank where people can browse Google Maps to find and capture Pokemons, people went ecstatic. It drove a sensation of the mainstream audience.

Now when it was later found out that Niantic, formerly Niantic Labs, a division under the Google Maps team that made the AR and location-based mobile game Ingress, went on to make a fully fledged version of the same idea- catching Pokemons in real life, no one would expected it to blow up like it is now.

It is an interesting case, as the game itself is not really a well-made one per se (it still has issues), but the impact it provides is more than enough to demonstrate how a phenomenon Pokemon Go has become. The app is now the top in the most grossing list on the Apple App Store, had the biggest download in the first week it launches, and impressively, drove Nintendo’s stocks to rise (and falter back as investors figured Nintendo is pretty much hands-off with this project).

Those listed were the economical impacts of Pokemon Go, but we are here to discuss on how it has already impact society, even to Malaysians. Impressive considering the game has yet to arrive on our market (at the time of writing)

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People Are Going Out More Often Now

The age-old stigma of gamers not leaving their mother’s basement (or at least get out of the house) a lot may as well be broken with the release of Pokemon Go. Sure, there is a merit to staying indoors more often- case in point, Daryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis spent time at home playing a lot of Street Fighter instead of roaming around Compton committing thuggery, and now he is an established e-sports athlete.

But the stigma of staying indoors is real. Now that there’s a game that incentivise you to go out and explore the outside world you can bet more people are at least getting some decent exercise.

Hatching eggs require players to walk some amount of distance, instead of the old adage of wait for a timer in most free-to-play mobile games. And you want to get those eggs to hatch for a chance to get a good Pokemon out of it. So there’s a good reason to jog- or a long walk- outside, and not just because for exercise.

The main gameplay loop of actually hunting for nearby pokemons as you search your neighbourhood, local park and any other notable landmarks while taking a breather in Pokestops, locations that will give you in-game items like more pokeballs to catch.

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These Pokestops are not just random locations too. Well-known landmarks, public places (including religous places of worship) and even commercial areas like stores and restaurants can be a Pokestop. There’s a huge boon for business- why not sell Pokemon-related goodies and snacks for the Pokemon trainers that stop by? Apparently Niantic is working with coperations to create “Sponsored Pokestops”, so there is a business opportunity to be have here.

The use of Pokestops also incited some arguments of common sense. Places of worship is expected to be respected, such as by not making too much noise around it to not disturb others. Several Shinto shrines in Japan had made public notices to respect such locations- and several churches have taken a similar stance, albeit in a more light-hearted manner.

The masjid folks in Malaysia would proabably love the influx of visitors, especially during the prayer times, as long as Pokemon trainers do not make such a commotion and not be just there for the pokemons.

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People Staring At Phones AND Socialising With Each Other

It’s easy to spot someone playing Pokemon Go, especially around Pokestops. Having a crowd of people all looking down on their phones can be A) looks eerie and B) a sad statement that gadgets have took away the human touch- people socialising naturally with each other. But on the contrary, with everyone staring down to Pokemon Go, instead of their own personal timeline of social media in which not everyone there would share, it actually promotes natural, social interaction. People who sees someone else with the app open has a lot of common ground to chat with, including the nice head’s up of alerting someone of a pokemon sighting- though it has its drawbacks and can be exploited.

Another feature of the game, teams, also fuel the social aspects of the game, both on a competitive and co-operative level. The three teams, Valor, Mystic, and Instinct can fight over controlling Pokemon Gyms, in which pokemon battles are done. Approaching a gym location and seeing a fellow Pokemon trainer can induce a tense moment- is that person in the same team? Are we working together or competing for that gym? Moments of rivalry, and discovering that other guy that just arrived to be your reinforcement since we share a team are commonplace in most players’ anecdotes about Pokemon Go.

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However, as mentioned before, people can take advantage of the gullible trainers form time to time. Harmless pranks are fine, but there has been instances where troublemakers are using Pokemon Go to lure people to be caught in act of crime. Now that’s really dangerous, especially if the kids are to be involved here. Yet, the community around the game has made rounds to ensure such instances are curbed, having announcements so that more senior players scope out some locations to ensure the safety of other, younger players.

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There’s also touching announcements of goodwill, where the community rallies to help the kids in children hospitals, those that can go off into a journey catching pokemons outside the constraints of the building, by throwing lures at the hospitals so more pokemons can spawn there.

Awww.

Though we may not be able to experience such as these if the government starts to meddle with it.

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The Staunch Stance Against Videogames

The thing is with the Malaysian Government, or more specifically the many Muftis – the head of Islamic ruling of the states- is that they are not that into entertainment stuff. As such, the first thing we heard about Pokemon Go in the local news was from the Mufti of Perak declaring it should be banned IF there’s gambling attached to it. Of course, the media needs some clickbait by spinning the headline to read that it should be banned, and failed to mention that the game has no sort of gambing mechanics in it, yet.

More recently the Mufti of Penang will outright claim it as haram (unpermissable) as its harm outweights its benefits. Though his claims have a sense of truth, it is still too early to judge if the harm the mobile app is doing is related to the app itself or just people not acclaimed to adjust common sense with such a game-changing app.

While there have been peculiar stories about Pokemon Go in the internet, the founding of dead bodies, fake stories of it causing highway accidents, and the like, here the media is all about badmouthing the game. Granted, Pokemon itself has a stigma here with some connotations of it being related to a “Jewish agenda”, though the sources of such claims remains refutable. As such, all the news we have here is demeaning the game with threats to declare it haram.

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This is a big disconnect here, as Pokemon games in general has never faced such bans, other free-to-play games that are big in Malaysia like Clash Of Clans had nary a mention by the government and religious bodies. Some are making conspiracy theories that this is all just a diversion from the real big news the country is facing currently.

But the sad fact here is just how the Malaysian mainstream audience really wants to join the bandwagon. To the point that speculations were made that it will be released in a matter of days (it sadly didn’t) and one fan even photoshopped a beautiful image of KLCC with the Pokemon Go logo, insisting it is coming soon, and collected thousands of retweets before it was deleted as it was fake news.

There’s even infographic facts that the hype for Pokemon Go in Malaysia, and South East Asia in general, is real.

This could be all ado about nothing in the end of the day, but the fact that games are being handled in a demeaning manner is a sad state. We gamers have to at least provide these ruling bodies the appropriate details of the game before letting them decide what to do.

If not, such ignorant, selective claims being made will just push the gamer demographic to be in more disdain towards the governing bodies, which is a bad place to be with as the gaming industry in Malaysia making its strides, thus a bigger demographic to give attention to in the future. I mean, if Pokemon Go is haram, then would that mean that Ingress, the game it is based on, should be haram as well?

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Summary

Pokemon Go may not be even a good game, but the zeitgeist it has produced, due to the pokemon name alone, is not to be trifled with. It has also made a great social impact to those playing it- and those observing it while waiting for Niantic to roll out the game in other countries.

Sure, it has its faults, and some people can continue to be gullible, but it has brought out the humanity in us again that no mobile app has yet to do in this scale.

It is sad to know that these “feelsgoodman” moments are not what the major media outlets here are covering, instead focuses on how to stop it being played here. At least give it a chance beforehand.

(Source of the anecdotes include Jim Sterling and Superbunnyhop‘s videos, as well as various podcasts of people in the US that has been playing Pokemon Go)

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