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 Pokemon Go has taken the virtual world by storm. It takes players to another level, where the cartoon monsters hide in the real world and are discovered on a smartphone.
Pokemon Go has taken the virtual world by storm. It takes players to another level, where the cartoon monsters hide in the real world and are discovered on a smartphone.

DANGEROUS: The obvious risks of the game clearly outweigh the benefits and can easily bring about tragic real-life consequences

HERE is a sense of foreboding in the air, a feeling that something wicked and evil is about to engulf the world, and swallow Malaysia whole in its wake.

It has brought about turmoil in several countries, with real threats of severe security breaches and the trespass of sacred and restricted sites. There is even concern that the location of secret military bases would be revealed, and lives lost.

Indeed, Pokemon Go has continued to cause chaos around the globe since its official release on July 6 for iOS and Android devices.

The free augmented reality mobile phone game developed by Niantic has triggered a craze even bigger than Donald Trump’s mane, causing droves of people to take to the streets in search of Pokemon — irresistibly cute “PO-c-KE-t MON-sters” with special powers. Pokemon Go now has more daily users than Twitter on Android phones in the United States.

The Pokemon franchise started in 1996 as titles for the Nintendo Game Boy, a handheld video game device, and has since expanded into films, toys, and trading cards. In these games, players explore a fictional world capturing wild Pokemon which they then use to battle and trade with other players.

Pokemon Go takes the finding, capturing and battles further — the cartoon monsters now “hide” in the real world and are discovered on a smartphone. What any addicted gamer needs to do is physically walk to specific spots in a city, town or neighbourhood to locate and capture Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Charmander and other unpronounceable creatures.

And, this is what makes it extremely dangerous. Whatsapping during meals and other inappropriate times is nothing compared to this new method of human mind domination. Adult men, who are essentially more malleable, have been particularly susceptible to the creatures’ seductive charms, willing in many cases to put aside all common sense to “catch ’em all”.

Since its introduction, reports have poured in about people walking into trees, lamp-posts, and drains; crashing their cars; or getting run over while trying to catch a wild Poliwhirl, among others things, in the middle of the road. Taking cognisance of a player’s uncontrollable urge to catch that Geodude on the windshield, “Don’t Pokemon and Drive” notices have appeared on America’s highways.

Others have lost their way in underground cave networks and walked off cliffs. It won’t be long before they do the same at bridges and train platforms.

Private properties, stores, restaurants and even police stations have received an influx of unwanted visitors searching for imaginary beasts.

In Bosnia, people had to be warned not to wander into areas littered with unexploded mines as some intrepid players had inexplicably done so. Indonesia had to explicitly announce that people were banned from playing Pokemon Go at the presidential palace.

And then, there are the robbers who use the game to lure hapless victims to secluded spots where they can be easily mugged. It doesn’t just bring robbers and gamers together, however. One player was led to a dead body in a river.

Cyber security experts have warned that the app poses a huge security risk, and “could be used for espionage and information gathering”. To compound the fear and hysteria are these headlines: “Is Pokemon Go a government surveillance psy-op conspiracy?” and from Guatemala, “Pokemon Go death: First picture of 18-year-old who was shot dead chasing virtual animals into a house”.

Proponents have praised the game’s capability to entertain, spur children to get off the couch and out into the streets, as well as bring people and communities together.

However, in this case, the obvious risks clearly outweigh the benefits. This game of fake monsters can easily bring about tragic real-life consequences.

Gratefully, the game is now only available in New Zealand, Australia, the US, the United Kingdom, and Germany, among others. It was launched in Japan, the country of the character’s birth, yesterday. Let’s hope it does not breach our borders and add “rise of the living dead” to the nation’s list of afflictions.

Instead of setting their sights on Selena Gomez and other nubile celebrities, the guardians of our morals, safety and well-being should instead speak up against this subversive new game. All citizens should set their differences aside, and either push for a referendum, or sign a declaration to make Pokemon Go a no-go in Malaysia.

Chok Suat Ling, an award-winning columnist takes a light and breezy look at hot, everyday topics. A law grad turned journalist, she is now NST Associate Editor News

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