Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The Pokémon phenomenon

 After reaching the top of gaming charts worldwide, Pokémon Go game mania has reached Egypt even before its official release, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

It has become familiar nowadays to find people wandering in their backyards, neighbourhoods, and sometimes even in their workplaces totally zoned out of their surroundings and staring at their mobile screens engrossed in the recently released smartphone-based game Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go, developed by Niantic Labs and part owned by Nintendo, is an augmented reality game that was released on 6 July in the US, Australia and New Zealand for Apple iOS and Android mobile users.

Since its launch, it has created a global frenzy. Its release caused servers to crash due to the overwhelming demand that led the game to become the top free application on Apple’s iTunes Store with a download rate up to five million times a day. It brought Nintendo’s market value to $7.5 billion in the first two days after the game’s launch – the highest surge since 1983.

Shortly after the initial release, the game became available in Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy and Portugal. On Saturday, Niantic, a San Francisco-based developer, significantly ramped up the game’s global release, launching it in 26 other countries. Again, because of the vast demand servers crashed hours after the launch. None of the 26 countries is a Middle Eastern country.

“I’ve been playing Pokémon Go for more than a week,” Rania Salem, 27, said. “It’s an addictive game,” she said.

Though the augmented reality game is not yet available to download in Egypt on Android’s Google Play or Apple’s iOS stores, “the curiosity to try it” has led many Egyptians to try to find a way to download it illegally.

“All of a sudden I found everybody talking about the game on social media platforms. The curiosity to try it made me find a way to download it since it is not yet available for download from the official store in Egypt,” Salem, who has an Android mobile, said.

She searched on Google, and after a few attempts successfully downloaded Pokémon Go from a third-party Website that can get around geo-restrictions and sideloads popular applications that may not be available in specific countries. “Once I had tried the game, I became addicted to playing it,” she said.

Not only are almost all social media users talking about Pokémon Go divided about the new game, but talk shows are also becoming obsessed by the phenomenon. Egyptian television host Lamees Al-Hadidi gave the game a go on her show “This is the Capital” on the private TV station CBC. “The Pokémon game is a real craze because it blends imagination with reality,” Al-Hadidi said, throwing a pokeball to collect a Pokémon character.

Maged Hamza, a 31-year-old engineer, has also managed to download the smash-hit game but in a more complicated way. “The game employs a new concept. It merges digital life with reality, and there is a lot of innovation behind it,” Hamza, who has an iPhone, said.

Due to the fact that Pokémon Go was initially available on the US store, an Apple account has to be registered with a US address and phone number in order to download it. “I had to make up a fake Apple account with a US address. I found a third-party Website that gives you a US address and phone number after registration. Then I used it to make a new Apple account that lets me access the US Apple Store and download the game,” Hamza said.

“I played it several times, and after reaching a higher level of the game I had to walk a longer distance or reach further destinations to advance in it. So I decided to quit,” he said.

Pokémon are cartoon monsters, and players of the game have to roam the real world collecting the fictional characters by throwing pokeballs at them. To get more pokeballs, players have to reach certain destinations. Pokémon characters that have been collected are trained to evolve and become more powerful so that they can be used to challenge other players in Gyms, a destination in which players gather to battle each other after advancing to level five of the game.

Ali Nada, 33, is another fan of the game. “After playing on a daily basis I began to reduce my sessions. I was wasting a lot of time and sometimes causing embarrassing situations,” Nada said.

“I might have had to collect a Pokémon from the backyard of the neighbours, which could have been embarrassing. Last week, I found a Pokémon beside a police car and so had to stand focusing my mobile camera on the police car to collect it. Fortunately, none of the policemen noticed me, as otherwise there might have been a problem,” Nada said.

Hisham Sayed, 26, has his own reasons for being a fan of the game. “Unlike other handheld games, Pokémon Go requires me to go out and walk sometimes several km to collect new Pokémon,” Sayed, who describes himself as a bit overweight, says, “The game has motivated me to exercise more,” he concluded.

The game uses GPS, an Internet connection and mobile cameras to guide players and allow them to collect Pokémon characters. Some observers have expressed alarm at potential security threats the game could cause, as it might be used for information-gathering as it accesses players’ locations and the details of the surroundings they see through their mobile cameras.

However, security expert Khaled Okasha rebuffed the allegations. “The game doesn’t represent any risk to security,” Okasha told Al-Ahram Weekly. “There is no cause for concern, and the game is being played all over the world. It is not intended for collecting information about any specific country,” he said. “Anyone who wants to spy or gather information about a specific country can do it without using a game.”

For Hossam Tawfik, an IT specialist, the risk might be to the privacy of the players themselves. “The initial version of the game has access to players’ Google accounts when they sign into it via Google on iPhone,” Tawfik said. “This means that the game can read and send emails on the users’ behalf, access Google Drive, look at search histories and access private photographs in Google Photos,” he added.

Niantic Labs released a statement last week saying that it had not intended the game to have full access to users’ Google accounts. “We recently discovered that the Pokémon Go account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission to the user’s Google account,” the statement read.

“Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. However, Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information — specifically, your user ID and email address — and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected.”

A few days later, Niantic put out an update for Pokémon Go on the iOS App Store that included a number of stability improvements and bug fixes, but also reduced the access the game has to personal Google accounts.

“Players on iOS should update their game version to ensure their privacy. The Android version of Pokémon Go still has not been updated, mostly because there is no issue with the level of permissions it asks for,” Tawfik said.

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