The phenomenon of Pokemon Go — which, for those living under a rock that may also be a Poke-stop, involves an augmented reality app that allows millennials to inhabit the somewhat nihilistic game of their childhood — seems to have become a worldwide craze, eclipsing Twitter, Tinder and other ubiquitous social media platforms.
But parallel to the near-global obsession have been the concerns of, well, grown-ups around the world worried about the app’s effects. These include security flaws posed by the app itself, as well as myriad cases of robbers and other assailants exploiting the game’s mechanics to lure unsuspecting victims.
Then, there’s the simple issue of propriety. In Washington, the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have been compelled to put out stern notices, requesting visitors to refrain from chasing around Pokemon while on the premises.
“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told The Post’s Andrea Peterson. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”
The consternation in the United States is mirrored elsewhere. Police in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, for example, issued a warning about the potential dangers of pedestrians playing the game.
“Players will only have eyes for their screen, and so captivated will they be by the game that they may no longer be paying attention to the traffic,” the police said. They also warned of “criminals using the game as a means to hunt down victims and steal from them.”
In some corners of the Muslim world, the reaction to the game took on a particular moral valence. Earlier this week, my colleague Sudarsan Raghavan blogged about the 2001 fatwa against the original Pokemon game, issued by an Egyptian cleric, who said the game taught children gambling through the use of “Masonic and Zionist symbols.” But now, the deputy chief of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the most important scholarly institution of Sunni Islam, has declared Pokemon Go to be as illicit as alcohol.
“This game makes people look like drunkards in the streets and on the roads while their eyes are glued to the mobile screens leading them to the location of the imaginary Pokemon in the hope of catching it,” said Abbas Shouman, as quoted by Gulf News. He went on: “Will people neglect their work and earning their living and devote themselves instead to hunting for Pokemon?”
Meanwhile, Mehmet Bayraktutar, the head of Turkey’s union of imams, grumbled about Pokemon Go enthusiasts venturing to mosques and other sacred sites to find their Pokemon.
“This undermines the prominence and significance of mosques, which are the most beautiful worship places in Islam,” he said, according to Hurriyet Daily News, and added: “I want it to be banned in Turkey.”
The Istanbul-based daily also cites a more benign notice from Turkey’s health ministry, which advised Pokemon GO players to not use the app in the middle of the day: “We don’t recommend searching for Pokémon between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays hit at a direct angle. We also recommend you keep your eyes on the road and not on the screen of your phone, especially when crossing the street.”
The Israeli military warned its soldiers not to use the app, a sieve of information, on army bases.
Perhaps the most vehement response to Pokemon Go came from Russia, where the game has yet to be officially released. Andrei Polyakov, a Cossack leader in St. Petersburg, the country’s second-biggest city, said he and his comrades would seek a government ban of the game.
“People should be dragged out of this virtual world, it reeks of Satanism,” he told local radio, according to Tass news agency. “There are so many interesting things to do and people are just wasting their lives.”
Dmitri Peskov, a senior spokesman for the Russian government, warned Pokemon Go players from seeking their quarry in Moscow’s most well-known site.
“Pokemons are no reason to visit the cultural treasury of the world that is the Kremlin, which unprecedentedly remains open, despite being the residence of the Russian president,” Peskov said.
That sentiment is not shared by some in South Korea, where the app can’t function particularly well because the government constrains the use of Google Maps. Nevertheless, diehard fans have managed to find a few blindspots where they can manage to play the game, particularly in one town perched in the country’s northeast. The city of Sokcho has even billed itself as “the only ‘Pokemon Go’ holy land on the peninsula.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ishaan Tharoor