By Veena Thoopkrajae
“You too?” is a common expression when someone “catches” me playing Pokemon Go on my phone. The game is widely seen as an evil, but my journalistic instinct told me not to jump the gun before I’d tried it first-hand.
Curious friends ask, “So what you get from playing it?” It’s a good question, and the best excuse I have is that I have to play it before I make any judgement. Before Pokemon Go launched in Thailand there were all sorts of bad reviews and warnings about how it threatens the social order and maybe even national security.
Society is indeed so fragile that even something as lightweight as a mobile game could pose a hazard. That’s what I had to test out.
I began playing on the second day after it arrived (it arrived on referendum day, amusingly enough), and so far I don’t believe I’ve done any harm to society – other than annoying people who are furiously trying to ignore it. They hate it when you get all excited about finding a new type of monster.
Pokemon Go is location-based augmented reality (AR) game in which blob monsters roam around. Players have to find and “capture” them by firing a ball at them. Then you train and empower them and send them into battlefields known as Gyms in various locations.
The bigger goal is capturing rare and powerful monsters and seizing a Gym, in which case you earn Pokemon coins as well as bragging rights. “Can you spend the coins somewhere?” a non-playing friend asked. “Nope, you use them to buy more items to use in the game!” I told him.
In nearly two weeks of playing I have yet to feel the urge to seize any Gyms. All I’ve done is collect monsters. But I’m proud that I haven’t spent any actual money buying items. I heard that the guy in Singapore who was the first to catch every kind of monster (there are hundreds) spent US$112 on in-app purchases on the game. That’s nearly Bt4,000.
Since there is real money involved, parents ought to be talking to their kids about it. Didn’t we experience this about a decade ago, when thousands of parents had heart attacks upon discovering their children had invested a fortune in Ragnarok, another online game?
It shouldn’t take Pokemon Go bills to get parents instilling smart habits in their young ones, though. In the case of this novelty, it might be a good way to learn how to resist temptation. I’m a responsible mum and even I went to the online store to find out what I could buy to push my level up. Imagine the temptation for kids.
Young or old, Pokemon Go poses a real challenge if you have a tendency to get carried away. As soon as it was launched in Thailand there were road accidents being blamed on it. One Chiang Mai teenager was seriously injured riding her motorbike in pursuit of the monsters.
We all have responsibilities to ourselves and to society. We have to take care of ourselves and of others. I found it amusing me that the police, thanks to the Pokemon Go craze, had stepped up enforcement of the ban on using phones while driving. C’mon, police, we’ve been there before – stricter law enforcement and all that! The law is not seasonal. The law has to be enforced whether there’s a fad going round or not. Obviously playing this or any other game while driving is very dangerous (yes, I tried that too!), but it’s the same danger you invite when texting or using a chat application behind the wheel.
The Pokemon creatures might not be genuine monsters, but we humans are. We’re always so ready to do evil things. Pokemon Go might just wake up the monsters residing inside us. We’re the ones who have to take control of the game, not the other way around, just like we have to be in control of our bad behaviour in general.
I started playing the game out of curiosity. A friend in Singapore told me she played for two days and then gave it up. “It’s so meaningless – I can’t understand why it’s such a craze!” she texted me (hopefully not while driving). Another friend there is playing, but not obsessed. “Too lazy to be forced to chase them around the island,” she wrote.
I told them I was playing so I could write a story about it and only collected monsters if they pass by. But that’s become a lie now that I’m feeling the urge to send my captive monsters into battle in a Gym.
So, all right, I’m a Pokemon Go player, and I enjoy catching new kinds of monsters. I’m pleased to declare, though, that I’m not turning into a monster myself, and I intend to keep it that way. Thank you.