POKEMON GO: It is just the beginning
Common sense needed on issue of whether augmented reality game should be regulated
Gotta catch 'em all
Pokemon Go has thrown up some interesting questions.
Why has it taken the world by storm? Do we need regulation? And does this signal a revolution in handheld games?
Before we delve into those questions, here's a quick summary of the game.
Cute little virtual pets called Pokemon are "hidden" all over the world.
Their locations are pre-determined by the game engine with the phone's built-in GPS technology.
You use the game and your phone's camera to find these hidden Pokemon using the built-in augmented reality (AR).
AR is simply a technology which overlays a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world. Okay, let's start with the most interesting question first: Do we need regulation?
When I was young, I was told that money was the root of all evil. As I grew older, I realised that money is not the culprit - unbridled human greed is.
So when I saw letters and social media posts calling for the authorities to regulate the playing of Pokemon Go to avoid illegal trespassing, road accidents, robberies, traffic jams, and even people falling off cliffs (think the ravines of Bukit Timah Hill) I couldn't help but laugh.
That's like saying video games, Netflix and even mouth-watering buffets also need to be regulated because if you engage too much in any of them, you can cause harm to yourself.
By the same logic, maybe the Government should limit the number of Minecraft play-hours a day, or that people should not be allowed to watch all four seasons of House Of Cards at one sitting because it could result in serious sleep deprivation.
The point is that any activity like Pokemon Go can be harmful if the users spend excessive amounts of time on them, or if they get so engrossed that they become oblivious to their surroundings.
Surely the user has to be responsible for his own well-being. And if it's kids we're talking about, parents should play a part in educating them on the dangers.
I certainly do not want the Government to decide for me the hours I am allowed to watch my TV shows, or where I am allowed to swipe for Pokemon.
And now the second question - why is it so wildly popular?
One reason is that the barriers of entry are low. Fans do not need to buy a Nintendo handheld game console to play. It now works on Android and iOS phones.
It's also free-to-play, like Clash of Clans and Dota 2, so anyone can jump in while those with deeper pockets can use real moolah to buy virtual items to help them get a leg up in the game.
But the biggest reason is that everyone loves Pokemon. Kids who grew up collecting Pokemon and watching the TV series are now in their 30s and 40s.
Some are successful professionals with deeper pockets, like my friend Khairul Sufiyan, who took a ferry to Bintan when he heard that the game was running in Indonesia. Unfortunately for him, Bintan was not within the launch zone.
My three daughters - aged five, 11 and 14 - are crazy about Pokemon, thanks mostly to Netflix and anime-streaming sites. I even know their personal favourites - Mudkip, Jiggly Puff and Squirtle.
Are we seeing a revolution in the mobile game business?
Yes. We are only at the start of a new wave of entertainment that marries virtual and real worlds.
The success of Pokemon Go will fuel other franchises to start their own collect-'em-all mobile games. Think Marvel Heroes, DC Heroes, My Little Pony, Naruto, Skylanders, Disney and so on.
So, as a nation, we can either sit back and worry about the negatives, or focus on the positives and show the world why this tiny red dot remains one of the most wired - both technologically and socially - nations in the world.
I am confident our Government (which has said it would monitor the situation before deciding) and the majority of us will make the right decision.