I’ve spent the past few days in Singapore, where I used to live a few years ago. As always when I spend time in Singapore, I marvel at the place – it really is a modern day miracle of triumph against adversity. Essentially a swamp 50 years ago, it’s now a vision of the future, with amazing buildings and architecture, efficient transport options, amazing food – and this time, what seems like an entire population obsessed with Pokemon Go.
It seems like virtually everyone is addicted to the virtual game where you roam around trying to ‘catch them all’ on an augmented reality mobile phone (or as the Singaporeans call it ‘handphone’). I spotted literally hundreds of people at well-known places around Singapore, shuffling around aimlessly, with their eyes fixed on their phones, stopping suddenly and swiping. While there were couples and groups, no-one was really talking to each other – it was like a zombie apocalypse had arrived, with the population replaced by the brainless undead, whose only mission is to consume Pokemon alive. In the main, the Zombies appeared to be adults, in their 20s, 30s and 40s – although I did spot the odd child and even a few of the elderly. It’s an egalitarian endeavour, at least.
I’ve seen Pokemon catchers in New Zealand, and thought ‘well at least they are getting outside in the fresh air’, but nothing like this – and with none of the health benefits. While I was there, the regular burning of Indonesian forests had sent another lot of pollution across the island, and so the Pokemon players were risking their lungs in the so-called ‘Haze’ to fulfil their obsessions.
Clever retailers have worked out how to cash in on this craze, with ideas as simple as having ‘Lures’ (things that attract the virtual Pokemon) in-store, and offering discounts to players to walk around inside their stores. The local Telco is giving players a ‘survival kit’ with water bottles, snacks and a rain jacket if they head into their stores. Local pubs are offering drink discounts, so you can drink and Poke.
On my visit to the ‘Shoppes’ at Marina Bay Sands I was amazed to see about four times as many people as I have ever spotted there before, but they weren’t buying things at the Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Jimmy Choo stores, they were merely shuffling up and down the promenades, like inmates in a virtual mental asylum.
Such is the dedication to the game, that if you are too busy, lazy, or value your ability to breath too highly, you can hire people for $30 an hour to catch them for you - more for the rare ones. Or you can arrange a private driver to chauffeur you around the island to where well-known ‘Pokestops’ are. The police in Singapore have issued warnings, and the rumour is they even have a specialist taskforce, to stop people driving and hunting Pokemon.
While I have great admiration for the people and the country of Singapore, I hope what I saw is a passing fad, and not a vision of a dystopian future.
Anyway, for the record, I am a level 4.