Pokemon Go’s Local Launch Met With Fear

Wandering the first floor of Phnom Penh’s Aeon Mall with her eyes glued to her iPad, Phyu Hnin Pwint followed a GPS-based map as she hunted for Pokemon hiding around the mall to add to her current collection of 40.

Since she downloaded Pokemon Go on Saturday, the 26-year-old Burmese national said she had already played the game for about six hours, taking any chance she had to step away from work at the mall’s Wuttisak cosmetic shop and escape into augmented reality.

Nangsophan Mam, 13, left, and Sithiksak Leakhana, 12, play Pokemon Go in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)
Nangsophan Mam, 13, left, and Sithiksak Leakhana, 12, play Pokemon Go in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

“We have to look at the screen all the time, so it’s a bit dangerous,” she said, adding that the mall was a bastion from danger. “On the street, you can have your phone snatched.”

A month after the game was released for Apple and Android products in select countries, Pokemon Go arrived in Cambodia and more than nine other Asian countries on Saturday, finally giving users in the region a chance to “catch ‘em all.”

With the digital creatures appearing in on-screen replications of the user’s location—as if they were in front of the player—the game allows people to catch, train and fight Pokemon as they walk through select neighborhoods, attractions and shopping areas.

The Pokemon Go Cambodia Facebook page suggests that users in Phnom Penh play at Aeon Mall, the riverside, Olympic Stadium and TK Avenue, a modern shopping strip in Tuol Kok district. International travel company Geckos Adventure has already begun advertising global Pokemon Go tours featuring Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap province, among other iconic tourist attractions.

Having finished playing for the day, Rith Sothearo, 14, explained the gist of the game while standing on the top row of Olympic Stadium—pulling out his phone to show that he had caught Weedle and Squirtle earlier in the afternoon.

“If there’s a Pokemon in front of you, you can see it sitting on an object” using the camera lens on your phone, he said. But as the virtual craze sweeps Cambodia, he too said the excitement was came with risks. 

“It’s fun. It’s dangerous,” Sothearo said.

A man uses a mobile phone in front of an advertisement for Pokemon Go at an electronic shop in Tokyo last month. (Reuters)

“You have a map and then you have a picture of a Pokemon and the map shows you where the Pokemon are in Tuol Kok, for example. So you have to walk to Tuol Kok to get them,” he explained.

“Sometimes, if you’re walking and catching Pokemon, someone might snatch your phone or you might get hit by a car,” he added. “I’m a bit worried.”

Nonetheless, the student said he had spent hours playing the game, along with at least a quarter of his classmates at Singapore International School in Phnom Penh.

For Meng Meassopanha, 22, the game’s popularity was too much of a draw to heed her mother’s warnings to say no to Pokemon Go.

“My mom said, ‘Oh, it’s a very dangerous game,’” she said outside the cinema at Aeon Mall, explaining that her mom had read about numerous accidents and traffic offenses that have been caused by the game since its international release.

“She said, ‘Don’t download that game,’ but I said, ‘Mom, it’s just a game. It’s not serious.’”

Dante, a 25-year-old medical student at International University who declined to give his full name, said he had heard stories of players walking into dangerous neighborhoods simply to catch more Pokemon.

He said he downloaded the app, but had not ventured further. 

“I want to play,” he said. “But I need to make sure I’m safe.”

soumy@cambodiadaily.com, retka@cambodiadaily.com

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