Pokémon Go sparks interest and confusion in Korea

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Hopping onto the trend of virtual reality (VR) entertainment, software development company Niantic released its augmented reality (AR) game “Pokémon Go” in selected countries on July 6. A real world spin-off of the timeless Nintendo game Pokémon, the smartphone application has been released on both iOS and Android platforms and has already stirred up significant anticipation worldwide.

From its initial release, Pokémon Go was a huge success, ranking first on the US App Store. Users were intrigued by the integration of reality and the world of Pokémon, as the application provided location-based service. Another acclaimed feature was its promotion of physical activity, for players had to walk around to hunt the Pokémon, definitely a characteristic unique to the game compared to previous versions.

“Some features that interested me were the Pokéstops and Gyms,” Brian Lee (10) said. “They can be found at various locations in the real world and used to gain items that will help you catch more Pokémon or battle other trainers, giving an additional level of ‘augmented reality’ to the game.”

However, Pokémon Go certainly brought negative consequences as well. For the first few days, the servers of the game continuously crashed due to the overwhelming number of players. Absurd accidents also occurred while people were playing Pokémon Go, interpreted by many as representations of the excessive craze over the game. According to CNN News, in Baltimore, a driver crashed into a police car while hunting for Pokémon. Additionally, USA Today reported that in St. Louis, four teenagers were found attempting to rob people by installing lure modules, which attract Pokémon to a certain area, in a parking lot and waiting for players to approach them.

So far, Pokémon Go is available in 69 countries, but South Korea is not one of them. This situation is a result of the relationship between Google Maps, the main maps service collaborating with Niantic, and the South Korean government. The government has refused to provide its detailed map data to Google Maps, prioritizing national security as the nation is technically still at war with its northern neighbor. For a compromise, the government offered to share its data if Google Maps agreed to blur out politically and militarily significant areas on their satellite map. However, Google Maps declined the offer, seeing no reason why South Korea should be made an exception given that all other nations were providing them with full data already.

“While I am not completely familiar with the exact reasoning behind Korea’s policy on limiting the release of domestic maps for international use, I understand the Korean government’s stance on this issue,” said Juhyung Park (12), MUN vice president. “I think that the government is exercising caution considering the fact that we are, technically, still a country at war. I am, quite honestly, happy to see the government being cautious when releasing this kind of information for international use. It shows me that the government is adamant in doing what is best for the Korean people.”

Due to such reasons, service for Pokémon Go was to be denied in all areas of South Korea. Nonetheless, the nature of GPS gridding has allowed for unique exceptions. It was reported that in the region of Sokcho, the game was available. Niantic had divided up the earth in cells to discern service areas, and Sokcho, being on the northeastern edge of the peninsula, was miraculously excluded from the no-service zone. For local businesspeople, their city’s new stardom proved to be a win-win situation; they were able to increase their sales by taking advantage of the dramatic numbers of tourists who came to play the game.

“I traveled to Sokcho at the end of my summer vacation to play Pokémon Go,” Alex Oh (10) said. “People were playing the game everywhere out on the streets. There were also shops that were using lure modules in the game to attract customers, which I feel positive about since both customers and workers can receive benefits. I hope that we could experience this at not only Sokcho but all over Korea someday.”

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