Pokemon Go: Boon or Bane?

Over the past week, Pokemon Go has taken our tiny island nation of Singapore by storm. Images of crowded playgrounds and other hotspots called “Pokestops” have flooded social media, and almost everyone you bump into on the street these days is playing the game on their phone.

But amidst all this enthusiasm, there have been some voices who have expressed less than positive sentiments towards the game. Before Pokemon Go even came to Singapore, some were already calling for it to be banned in light of the alleged social ills it would bring. Others have taken to social media to discuss how the game has turned many into zombies preoccupied with catching virtual monsters, ignoring their real-life concerns or pursuing more worthy interests.

I have a confession to make: I play Pokemon Go. And I can understand where detractors of the game are coming from, for their concerns are valid. But to ignore the benefits this game can bring is to close our minds to what can be a social good rather than a social ill.

Such being the case, I would like to share my own personal experience with the game, in the hope that detractors who read this can come to understand the other side of the coin. For Pokemon Go players who are reading this, it is also my hope that we will learn to be more civic-minded in how we play the game, so that we can ensure everyone (players and non-players both) have fun.

1. Pokemon Go promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Some of you may know that the Health Promotion Board is trying to encourage all Singaporeans to walk more every day. It’s called the National Steps Challenge. They gave out free fitness trackers, created an app to log the steps, and even offered prizes and gifts to be redeemed by those who clocked the required number of steps. I believe I’m speaking for many equally kiasu Singaporeans who participated in the challenge alongside me when I say that I stopped going out of my way to walk more daily once I had redeemed all the prizes I could. Sorry, HPB. A $5 NTUC voucher just isn’t enough to get me to walk 10,000 steps a day.

Pokemon Go, however, seems to have been super effective in getting me out of the house. As the name of the game implies, players cannot remain indoors, but are encouraged to go out and explore real-world locations to find and catch Pokemon, or pocket monsters for short. One might wonder where the allure is in expending real-life effort to walk to someplace just to obtain something that isn’t even real. The Pokemon might not be real, it’s true. But at the time of my writing this article, the game says I have walked a total of  63.9 km in the past 8 days since I started playing. That’s 8 km of walking daily – how about leading a more active lifestyle for a real benefit?

2. Pokemon Go has brought families and friends together.

As I traveled across the land, searching far and wide for Pokemon, I began to notice something truly wonderful. I saw countless parents bonding with their children when they talked excitedly about their latest Pokemon catches. I walked past many couples laughing about how they had run out of Pokeballs (balls used by players to catch wild Pokemon) while trying to capture a rarely seen Pokemon. And I observed several groups of friends enjoying themselves as they discussed strategies on how to take down rival Gyms (real-life locations where players can battle with each other for control of an area). What other game or activity has transcended so many boundaries and brought so many families and friends together for much needed quality bonding time?

3. Pokemon Go encourages higher visitation to places of interest.

Last night, I found myself at Chinese Garden. Why? I normally go there to jog on weekends, but now I go there as part of my daily after-dinner stroll to catch Pokemon. As I had discovered over the past week, many other Singaporeans had the same idea as me. The Confucius statue was completely surrounded by my fellow countrymen, all eagerly swiping their phone screens as new Pokemon appeared, drawn to the area by a lure module (an in-game item used at Pokestops to attract Pokemon).

Some might say this is a poor use for a park that is supposed to increase awareness about ancient Chinese culture, but I beg to differ. Because I jog there regularly, I know for a fact that prior to Pokemon Go being released in Singapore, Chinese Garden was far more deserted than it is now. The only people in the park would be foreign workers enjoying their day off, or joggers running swiftly through the area as part of their route. It’s true that few of the many Singaporeans thronging the park would stop to appreciate the park and its attractions while playing the game, but isn’t that better than the almost negligible number of visitors the park was experiencing before? The undeniable fact is: Pokemon Go has increased visitors to all of Singapore’s parks and natural reserves significantly since its release.

4. Pokemon Go promotes a friendlier society.

On the first day of the game’s launch in Singapore, I ventured out with my phone fully charged, ready to begin my journey to become the best that no one ever was. As I was walking past a Pokestop with a lure module attached, a young man came up to me and asked, “Hey, could you tell me what these falling pink leaves mean?” Upon seeing my surprised expression, he backpedaled swiftly and said, “Oh, sorry! Are you playing Pokemon Go?”

My surprise didn’t stem from my inability to answer his question (For non-players, the falling pink leaves at a Pokestop is a sign that it has an active lure module). It was surprise that a total stranger had approached me to ask about a game, with the assumption that I was playing it too. To his relief, his assumption was correct, and we had a brief friendly chat about the game before we parted ways to continue on our respective quests to catch them all.

We Singaporeans know that we’re generally an unfriendly bunch. Nobody talks to each other on the MRT or in public areas, unless it’s to say “sorry” or “excuse me”. But as I visited more and more places to catch Pokemon, I encountered more and more instances of complete strangers talking to each other about the game. Some would announce the appearances of rare Pokemon so other nearby players could head over to catch them (though admittedly there were many pranksters who simply took joy in crying wolf), while others advised newer players on Pokeball throwing techniques in order to improve their Pokemon catching effectiveness. Simply put, Pokemon Go has made Singapore a friendlier place to live in, uniting strangers through the shared experience of trying to become a better Pokemon trainer. I’ve even read about dating agencies trying to use the game to bring would-be lovers together as well. Might Pokemon Go be the solution to Singapore’s falling birth rate? Only time will tell.

5. Pokemon Go is boosting Singapore’s economy.

It seems dating agencies aren’t the only businesses trying to cash in on the game. Telcos like Singtel, shopping malls like ION Orchard and even Resorts World Sentosa have all incorporated the usage of Pokemon Go lure modules in their bid to attract customers. Fish & Co. ran a promotion where players above level 5 could enjoy discounts on their total bill. And Dian Xiao Er is offering 10% off its wild ginseng duck dish if players show their staff a Psyduck (a kind of Pokemon) named “Dian Xiao Er”. Last but not least, I’ve even seen a lorry rental business offering its services to drive players around Singapore in big groups to catch Pokemon!

It seems to be the trend now to try to incorporate the Pokemon Go craze into their marketing strategy, whatever the business is. In light of the global economic slowdown, Singapore’s economy needs every boost it can get. And so far, the game has injected new life and hope for local businesses to stay afloat and tide through the bad times.

Conclusion

I didn’t deal with any of the complaints about Pokemon Go in this article so far. I didn’t talk about how the game is dangerous because vulnerable players might be lured to remote locations and robbed or raped by predators lying in wait. I didn’t discuss how players are a menace to themselves and those around them because they aren’t paying attention to their environment. And I have not dealt with the noisy racket at night that players are making for people who are unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on if they are playing) enough to live near a popular Pokestop.

The reason why I haven’t done so is because these complaints don’t reflect upon the game itself, but rather the game’s players. As you can see from the in-game loading screen below, the game clearly warns players to be aware and mindful of their surroundings:

IMG_4833

Drivers on the expressway are always reminded through several road signs to drive safely and not to speed. But we know some of us do so anyway. Is it the fault of the expressway that vehicle accidents occur when drivers speed? No, it is not. It is the fault of the irresponsible driver. Are all drivers to be blamed then, for such accidents? Again, the answer is no. It is not logical to tar all drivers with the same brush when only a small minority are guilty.

Likewise, it is not logical to lump all Pokemon Go players together because of a few bad eggs. For those of us who play the game, let’s take the game’s advice to heart and be more careful with regard to our own personal safety and that of others while playing the game. Not only that, let’s be more civic-minded with how we play: Residents don’t need to know that a Dragonair has appeared at their void deck playground at 1 am in the morning. I believe that if we players can behave more responsibly while enjoying the game, the benefits of Pokemon Go will become more apparent to all, regardless of whether they play the game or not.

To write this game off as a craze to be tolerated or endured is a huge waste. The creatures in the game may be make-believe, but the benefits they have brought could not be more real.  Pokemon Go is here to stay, for better or worse: It is my hope that we Singaporeans will be able to make the best of the situation, the way we have always done for the past 51 years.

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