The global virtual monster hunting craze – Pokemon hits Singapore

The waiting was over for Pokemon fans in Singapore yesterday as the global virtual monster-hunting craze finally reached the Republic. (StraitsTimes)

From the heartland to the city, players – or ‘trainers’ as they are known in the Pokemon world – could be spotted walking around with eyes fixed on their smartphones, pausing occasionally to swipe their screens before moving on to the next Pokemon.

By lunchtime, thousands of trainers were braving the heat and humidity to catch these creatures, pausing unwillingly when it started raining in the evening.

Property agent Dennis Cheng, 24, said the game’s release yesterday morning was “exciting news”. Within an hour of waking up and downloading the app, he was at a nearby field in Bukit Batok on the hunt for Pokemon.

“It was like a friend just had a baby, and you rush down immediately to see it,” he said. “I had to have my breakfast first but I’m out now catching Pokemon.” The smartphone game, which has created a revival of the mid-1990s Pokemon craze, uses augmented reality software to make Pokemon “appear” in real locations in the players’ phone camera. The game also makes use of popular landmarks and points of interests to serve as “PokeStops”, where players can obtain free items, or as “Gyms”, where players can battle one another. These places appear all over the island, such as at MRT stations, the Science Centre, the Singapore Zoo and the National Gallery.

The game’s United States-based developer Niantic released the game with no prior warning in 15 countries across Asia and Oceania yesterday, a month after it first launched the game in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Companies wasted no time in taking advantage of the game’s popularity to entice players into their premises. Shopping mall Ion Orchard started releasing lures – an item players can buy in-game which attract more Pokemon to the area – from noon yesterday until Aug 21 to entice even more shoppers there. 

The Pokemon Go Singapore Facebook group saw a surge in growth yesterday, with more than 3,000 members joining to push total membership to 32,000. Players also created chat groups in apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to coordinate, meet up and play the game together.

Long-time fans like Mr Lu Wen Hao, 19, had been anticipating the game’s release. “Downloading Pokemon Go was one of the first things I did after I booked out from national service camp yesterday,” said Mr Lu, who started playing Pokemon on his Nintendo when he was nine. Other players like Mr Samuel Tan, 25, have literally gone the extra mile. The flight steward started playing the game last month in Australia while there for work. “The game is so accessible and some Pokemon are region-specific… so it’s great that I get to travel and catch Pokemon,” said Mr Tan, who plays the game every day. He also taught his colleagues how to play when it was launched in Singapore yesterday, calling it a “good bonding activity”.

Another player who first started playing overseas is Ms Lisa Oon, 23. She and her friend downloaded the app while holidaying in New Zealand two weeks ago. “It’s quite fun to see your childhood coming to life in front of you,” said Ms Oon, who, like other fans, played Pokemon on her Game Boy as a child. However, she felt the game could be improved further. “It’s not as much fun as the Game Boy version because it has fewer features,” said the undergraduate. “You also have to keep the app open while you run around, and you need data.”