As soon as Pokemon Go was launched, Pokemon fever struck us once again.
For those who are not familiar with the concept of Pokemon, Pokemon is an eminent Japanese franchise that first entered the global market as a video game for the Game Boy. Players are designated as Pokémon Trainers that have two goals:
- Complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species.
- Train a team of powerful Pokémons from those they have caught to compete against those of other Trainers and eventually win the Pokémon League.
Those who have encountered the Pokemon franchise will likely have, at least once, imagined themselves being Pokemon trainers. Pokemon Go has now made this dream come true. Virtually.
Pokemon Go is an AR (Augment Reality) game that connects our real world and virtual world of Pokemons through iPhones and Android devices. As you move around, your smartphone will vibrate to notify you when there’s a Pokémon nearby. Once you’ve encountered it, you need to take aim on your smartphone’s touch screen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Be careful when you try to catch it though; otherwise it’ll escape.
By providing an opportunity to pursue our long-given up, surrealistic dream of catching Pokemons, Pokemon Go has used the Pokemon franchise as its ‘Pokeball’ to capture a tantamount proportion of the global market. It became the most downloaded app in its first week and also the fastest to reach 50million installations on Google play. It is also the fastest mobile game to surpass the $500 million in terms of pure revenue.
To Japan—the birthplace of the Pokemon franchise— Pokemon Go is more than than just a game; for better or for worse.
One of Japan’s social issues is the high number of NEETs—those who are ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’. In society, they are usually seen as hermits who never leave their rooms and devote their time to their hobbies. Such lifestyle tends to result in in a myriad of social disadvantages, such as insecure and poor future employment, criminal behavior, and mental and physical health problems. Thus, to resolve this issue, Japanese government had encouraged them to meet psychiatrists, and such approach—not surprisingly— turned out to be ineffective.
Yet, Pokemon Go was able to achieve this. Taro Aso— the Finance minister of Japan— claimed, “Shut-ins and otaku are all out there now playing Pokemon, which is doing what psychiatrists couldn’t — just look at what’s happening overseas.”
Without intending to, Japan was able to indirectly develop an effective way to recover NEETs. Although their employment is still an issue, this can still be seen as a great step forward.
However, many in Japan are concerned that the players might go too far in order to capture Pokemons and Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, is one of them. When told that Pokemon characters can be caught around the Prime Minister’s Office, Suga said, “I would like to caution people not to wander into dangerous areas and places that are off-limits.” While some might perceive him as a worrywart, Suga’s concern is not baseless. After all, pokemons have been sighted inside the grounds of Fukushima Daichi power plant.
In 2011, the nuclear power plant in Fukushima was destroyed by the tsunami following the March 11 earthquake, releasing radioactive materials into atmosphere. In spite of the measures taken since then, there’s still more than 200 million gallons of radioactive water in Fukushima, which is more than enough to fill two Yankee Stadiums to the brim. Fearing the potential of Pokemon Go players inadvertently straying inside the contaminated sites while playing the game, Japanese government has enforced security to prevent them from entering dangerous areas and the facilities, including the nuclear power plants. In addition, Japan has requested Niantic—the founding company of Pokemon Go—to case pokemons from appearing at such dangerous areas.
However, effective action is yet to be taken.
Currently, Pokemon Go is only about 10% complete, and it also plagued with server issues, irritating bugs and a thoroughly broken combat system. Nevertheless, solving the problem of pokemons appearing in Fukushima is relatively easier than it is thought to be to Niantics with its connections and resources. However, doing so will force Niantic to adjudicate its app into a selectively-functional app. Not only would doing this be a terrific headache, but it will also put the company in a precarious position during its prime time. Consequently, Niantic gave no comment. Most likely, Niantic will wait as long as possible before publically involving itself. Because once it does, there will be no turning back.
Although the situation was initially fine inside the ‘pokeball’ that Pokemon Go used to capture the market, things are gradually becoming hectic. Sooner or later, Niantic will fall, unless it can quickly learn how to properly control its own product, like how the pokemon trainers should with their pokemons before challenging the league.