Pokémon Go'ing Somewhere: How One Mega-Player in App Gaming Might Be A Small Step for Privacy an
On a relatively clear July evening in Central Park, dozens and dozens of New Yorkers—men and women, some teenagers, some even with children in tow, across a surprising spectrum of racial identities, gender expressions, and (presumably) backgrounds—flooded a section of the park in search of a single Pokémon. The members of the "mob," as some on YouTube called it, were all users of the new Niantic app for Android and iPhone, called Pokémon Go, which allows players to use geolocation on their cell-phones to "catch" and train over 140 different Pokémon. The Pokémon in question in this particular moment and location? A Vaporeon, a Water-type, one of the three evolutionary possibilities from Eevee (all pictured below in their cutesy glory).
Vaporeon and the other Pokémon are the outgrowth of a pair of video games from GameBoy’s Satoshi Tajiri, both released in 1995, and a popular anime TV series from 1996. Both the games and the anime have spawned its own series of evolutions into spinoffs and other platforms, toys and apparel in a number of variations and market-groups.
Even if you've never played a Pokémon game, or seen an episode from its many different series, some things Pokémon are essentially household names: gotta catch em all shows up in advertisements and store windows, and a fair number of people in so-called civilized society know Pikachu.
Pokémon Go, however, is something else entirely. Since its July release in 3 countries—Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—it has seen a user base of nearly 100 million and has added more than 50 other countries in worldwide availability, including Japan. The app hasn't even been released in India or China yet, where (if it indeed is released) the projected increase in users will no doubt be impressive. Niantic made over $200,000,000 in its first month alone, this according to CNBC. Its success is staggering.
And baffling, mostly to news outlets. Pokémon Go has been prompting stories from its earliest release.
Gamespot reported on August 1st that the game had “nearly destroyed” a quiet Australian suburb; and Karen Zraick of The New York Times reported in July that countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Russia had issued general warnings to characterize Pokémon Go as an anti-religious, anti-national and moral menace. One U.S. pastor believes the game is Satanic, according to Hillary Hanson of The Huffington Post; apparently, the game spawns “cyber-demons.”
Some sources, of course, name more than bafflement or vague nonsense as their issues; Japanese law enforcement outlets issued safety warnings to gamers after Japan saw its first Pokémon Go-related accident within hours of the release. Other law enforcement, transit, and community safety agencies have issued similar warnings throughout the world. Niantic included its own safety messages to its loading screen following an early August update. And Niantic has also been forced, amid outrage, to un-list certain sites as PokéStops in the game, having drawn players to areas of assumed reverence—such as Arlington National Cemetery or Holocaust memorials. Yet more generally, a lot of people just don’t understand the appeal.