Terrorists using Pokemon Go to launch mass-casualty attacks

From ‘Think twice about giving Pokemon Go-ahead’, 21 July 2016, ST Forum

(Estella Young): The frenzied playing of augmented-reality game Pokemon Go abroad makes it increasingly clear that the Singapore authorities should think twice about allowing the game to be played here (“Local fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go“, last Thursday).

Apart from the reported incidents of “Pokemon zombies” injuring themselves or others due to poor situational awareness, is it in Singapore’s best interests to permit a game over whose targets it has no control?

Pokemon Go should not be played at certain locations for reasons of public safety and human decency. Schools, hospitals and public transport interchanges should be off limits due to the risk posed by uncontrolled surges of human traffic.

Nor does it befit the dignity of other locations, such as houses of religious worship and cemeteries, to be invaded by gamers blindly chalking up points.

Americans have already objected to the appearance of Pokemon Go characters at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland has had to ask game developer Niantic to exclude the former Nazi death camp from the game to safeguard the solemnity of the site.

At present, Pokemon Go targets are assigned by Niantic. While one can request certain locations to be removed from play, the game developer is not legally obliged to do so and cannot be held accountable for the consequences.

Since private individuals can purchase “Lures” to attract Pokemon Go players to a location, a person could harass someone else by placing a Lure near the victim’s home or workplace to attract disruptive crowds.

And in this age of lone-wolf terrorism, an extremist could easily buy a “Lure” to draw players into a low-security zone before launching a mass-casualty attack.

While Pokemon Go is certainly good for getting fans off the couch and out exploring the “real world”, Singapore would do well to seek a degree of control over how Niantic assigns its Pokemon targets before letting the game into the country.

Until Pokemon Go makes its long awaited debut in Singapore, its potential as a weapon of mass destruction blasting all the Pokezombies into ‘Vaporeons’ remains to be seen. It could, however, be a concern for our SAF when it comes to trespassers stumbling into protected areas. You don’t a situation where a Pokemon Hunter treks through a forest and finds himself smack in a rifle range.

In order to protect national security like stopping random mobs from infiltrating MRT stations resulting in freak deaths everywhere, I won’t be surprised if Singapore would be the first in the world to lead by example and ban Pokemon Go entirely, nevermind that there’s another non-gaming module of the handphone that ‘gets you off your couch’ but puts you in extreme peril at the same time. Various people have died using it while standing on the edge of precipices. If Pokemon should Go, then we should ban SELFIES too.

Calling for regulation on the distractions of technology is nothing new. People were complaining of pedestrians walking out plugged into their Walkman headphones in the 80s. If video games like Mortal Kombat were not blamed for violence in children, they drew flak for promoting gambling, like the Pokemon-inspired Animal Kaiser . Despite fans debunking the writer’s unfounded fears of Pokemon destroying us all, her underlying concern that Pokemon Go is not exactly harmless either is worth ‘thinking twice’ about. If a crowd of Pokemon trainers go berserk at a ‘Lure’ and a fight breaks out, would they all be charged for an unlawful assembly? If a child sneaks out past midnight to catch a rare Pokemon and gets hacked down by a psycho killer, would the parents file charges against the game creators for being partly responsible for murder? Already we have reports of people getting robbed while in pursuit of  Pokemon so such a scenario, bizarre as it may be, may not be entirely implausible.

So while using Pikachu to launch a terrorist attack may seem rather far-fetched, just as businesses could jump on the Pokewagon to draw more customers, there will be that random oddball who will use Pokemon for nefarious means like how fake DHL phone-scams you of your life savings. Pokemon Go may well boost the economy or our general well-being, though at the expense of a few people bumping their heads in a cemetery, or otherwise bright students failing their exams because they’re hooked. Still, you don’t need an addictive game to get people to make a nuisance of themselves at solemn places. Folks from church group Rock of Ages ran wild over Kranji memorial some years back, Pokemon or no Pokemon.

With education, creativity, some self-discipline and the appropriate privacy settings, the Pokemon Go concept could be harnessed as a force for good where you need the power of crowdsourcing to get a job done, like drawing players to a place to clean up a mess for Poke-points, or deliberately planting Poke-stops where illicit activity tends to take place like forest brothels. Given Singapore’s national psyche of Kiasuism, we can be certain that local gamers will go PokeBALLS-out to ‘catch them all’. Let’s hope what they catch is just pixellated monsters and not bio-engineered smallpox.


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