Should I be scared to play Pokémon Go if I live in Pakistan?

Putting your exact location up for other people to see is a huge liability on one’s security and privacy.

Saad Ayub July 12, 2016
The oft stated relationship between mobile application games and lack of physical activity has been the point of argument to disregard them as productive. For the most part, they’re right; computer games have had an undeniable impact on the physical activity of today’s youth; prompting odd sleeping cycles, unwillingness for social interaction, etc.

I speak from experience; I have been hooked to gaming for the most part of my life; I believe the amount of time I’ve spent on gaming in recent years has contributed to weight gain, body image issues, and a general disinterest in real-life socialising, a theme too persistent in many of my gaming peers. This shift in behaviour has been in the making for around three decades as computer games gradually bypassed all other forms of entertainment for today’s youth.

However, over the past week, something amazing has happened; a mobile phone application has prompted people to step out of their houses. The Pokémon Go game for those who grew up in the 2000s is a dream come true. I, too, admit to wishing for a world where I could catch Pokémon (Short for pocket monsters). The augmented reality from within my smartphone transports me to the world of Pokémon.

Unlike most applications, to play it you must step out of your house, visit different locations as shown on the interface of the device to further level up, and gain more prizes. This is a great idea, the best one the industry has had since the advent of GPS technology. A lot of my peers have downloaded the app despite it being officially unavailable in the country and have started walking miles and miles in search of special locations shown on the map.

In the aftermath of the launch, social media was ripe with statuses of people getting sore legs because they spent hours playing the game. The application has therefore created a physical community amongst its users, people can be tracked with the application so that they may interact and be able to trade Pokémon.

After acquiring the game via unofficial means, Pakistani Pokémon Go fans have had their own stories to share. Pokémon Go Pakistan (a group dedicated to discussions regarding the application) went up on Saturday and since then has narrated the stories of dozens of Pokémon enthusiasts and their interaction with the game.
“I finally have a reason to walk my dog” Says Dawar Nauman, a recent LUMS graduate while sharing how the game has impacted his habits.

Another member of the group claimed to have walked such long distances for the first time in her life, all in the pursuit of Pokémon.

Now, here’s the tough luck in this wonderful idea; it can be dangerous. Looking at the implications of a physical community-based gaming application, one must realise that putting your exact location up for other people on the same application to see, is a huge liability on one’s security and privacy. I live in a relatively safer locality. The adjacent area, however, is notorious for its criminal activity but the application shows that there are Pokéstops in that area. For one to level up and progress further in the game they must visit the Pokéstops to acquire game items. I am reluctant to proceed to that place, but it is the closest Pokéstop in the two kilometre radius.

My concerns, however, are not unfounded. This week a group of three armed men tracked people in real life and robbed them of their smartphones in O’Fallon, Missouri. This is just one example of how a physical community-based gaming application may pose some serious real-life threats. When people immerse themselves in gaming within the confines of their rooms, they do not have to be wary of traffic, driving rules or pay attention to other stuff around them. It has been less than a week since the launch of the game and there have already been multiple reported accidents because someone was too involved in the game to pay attention.

I love the idea of the game, but an increased risk of being mugged, or a hit-and-run are some of the trade-offs, in terms of their allocation of key locations on the GPS, the Pokémon Go application has a long way to go.

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Saad Ayub The author is Journalism student at the Beaconhouse National University Lahore, and an Intern at The Express Tribune Lahore Desk. I am drawn into stories of human interest, and i am a full blown gaming enthusiast.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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