The first reaction when you hear that the Singapore government wants to monitor the impact of Pokemon Go here is probably incredulity. Or, what the heck!
When Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told reporters yesterday that it would study how the game would affect society, it immediately drew strong responses from the public.
Firstly, why must the government poke its nose into everything? Secondly, shouldn’t players of the game learn to be responsible for their own safety and avoid breaking the law?
Well, I think the good minister would hardly disagree with these sentiments.
Looking again through the Straits Times story, where he was quoted, I don’t think he said the government would stop people from playing the game or be overly interfering with how new games are introduced here.
You can argue that the authorities have had an uneven record with games in the past. The initial banning of Mass Effect in 2007 was lifted shortly after a public uproar over how the censors zoomed in on a kissing scene between a human woman and an alien woman. No, I kid you not.
However, much has changed in the nine years since. No longer can the government exert the same kind of control over what media is consumed. The widening reach of the Internet has changed that equation.
Singapore knows it cannot afford to erect a Great Firewall of China because it has no local market to fall back on. Closing doors to new innovations, such as Pokemon Go, makes it look silly as it seeks to be a place where the newest games are created.
Indeed, if a Singapore developer had come up with Pokemon Go, the tune would be very different. Instead of monitoring it, the government would be lauding it as another successful made-in-Singapore media product.
All the same, I do understand why the government wants to be seen to be doing something. A sizeable segment of society still believes that the authorities have a large part to play in moderating the influences of anything new or disruptive.
Notice how letter writers to The Straits Times have called for the creators of Pokemon Go to be made accountable somehow for users’ actions. Or how Singapore needs to control how the game is played, so users don’t, say, barge into religious places to chalk up points.
This is not new, of course. Whenever something unfamiliar gets the attention of so many people at once, sometimes causing them to do silly things, like chasing after virtual creatures across roads, there is sure to be push-back.
Think of the moral panic when the Dungeons and Dragons board games became popular in the 1980s. Back then, many believed they fostered demon worship and encouraged witchcraft.
Now, of course, games set in a fantastical world such as the World of Warcraft are welcome and played by people of all ages. The Lord of the Rings, all about wizardry and dark forces, have been made into successful movies and attracted tourists to New Zealand.
With Pokemon Go, let’s consider how quickly society has jumped into a sort of moral panic in the past. It’s not just the game itself, but the whole idea of augmented reality, that will come up for debate soon enough.
The technology is going to be more common in the years ahead. Not just in games but in everyday life. We already stare at the phone so much when we watch TV, have dinner and lie in bed.
What’s to stop this multi-tasking to come in an even more seamless form, in augmented reality, where you get live data feeds from the Net as you see the real world with your naked eyes?
That will be horrible for folks who already feel technology has invaded all aspects of life. Yet, others will welcome it as a new way of interaction.
Once again, the Singapore government will monitor things. Hopefully, it would allow people to see and discover things for what they are. Users of technology, ultimately, have to be responsible for its use.
What more if we aspire to be a nation of creators, not just passive users?