BANGKOK – These days it isn’t unusual to see groups of various ages gathering to play “Pokemon Go” at department stores and other public places in Thailand. The widely popular smartphone game debuted here, and in many other Asia-Pacific countries, in early August.
Word spread among the Thai gaming community and, when paired with a global media craze, “Pokemon Go”made it to the top of the local downloads chart. Adoration for the Japan-born cartoon characters also helped, they’ve been popular among Thai children for decades.
In Thailand, mobile giant True Corp. has been granted a license to manage the game, which is owned by U.S.-based company Niantic. An executive of True Corp., Birathon Kasemsri, says “Pokemon Go” can help build a harmonious community as the game’s fans gather with the same goal of catching its little monsters.
More importantly, he says there are opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to increase income by attracting game players to their shops.
A week after being launched, however, some people have voiced concerns over problems caused by gamers who have pursued the monsters in “no-go places” such as hospitals and on roads.
Accidents have occurred when drivers have suddenly stopped their vehicles to catch monsters on the roadside. Many have also taken to social media to complain about the improper behavior of “Pokemon Go” players, things that include bumping into other people while they concentrate on their mobile phone’s screens.
Tulayawat Mahaewong, 24, says he downloaded the game on the first day of its launch and has since become fan.
“I normally catch monsters more than 10 times a day,” he says. “Everyone in my office plays Pokemon and during lunch we will sometimes go out to catch Pokemon together.”
Tulayawat says the game has helped him in being able to talk to other people as they have the same monster-catching goals in common.
“I think the game allows us to make more friends outside … and I also have a good chance to exercise and relax,” he says, adding the players should always be aware of their surroundings so as not to cause accidents.
Government officer Pimkarn Klongsangson, 24, says “Pokemon” has been her favorite cartoon since she was young. Thus, she didn’t hesitate to download the game when it launched in Thailand. The new feature using Google Maps to locate the monsters is an outstanding feature of the game, in her view.
“It is exciting to catch cute Pokemon monsters during the boring traffic jams in the morning and evening,” she says. “I can catch more than 10 monsters per day. I spend time playing during the time I commute back and forth from home to office.”
However, Pimkarn admitted there are both pros and cons to playing. While she thinks it’s a good way to exercise, she recognizes the dangers of tracking the monsters to isolated areas at night.
“It’s dangerous to go outside at night to catch the monsters, especially for women and children,” she says. “The criminals can use Pokestop — the online spot in the real location where Pokemon are released — to lure victims.”
In an effort to keep Pokemon fever from getting out of hand, an independent agency that is responsible for online and mobile games has been looking at ways to keep both fans and critics happy. The agency is also negotiating with the game company to get monsters withdrawn from restricted places, especially hospitals and private residences.
Instructions on “Pokemon Go” safety have been released via social media, while government authorities have also gently warned players not to violate other people’s privacy.
In the meantime, the Tourism Ministry has planned to use the game to promote tourism by placing the monsters in tourist spots, a move that has happened in other countries as well.
Nitida Sangsingkeo, a lecturer in mass communications at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, says boundary-less games such as “Pokemon Go” could have negative affects if the players do not know how to deal with them. She says that children are particularly at risk as the often jump on trends and don’t consider greater consequences.
“Parents have to handle this case with care because harsh prohibition could make the situation worse than expected,” she says.
From the perspective of a communications specialist, Nitida says the proper way of generating communication among those involved in the game circles is the best way to create a win-win situation.
“Holding discussions and finding solutions for all — the game operators, players and public — should be the best solution. To try to make balance,” she says.
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