Pokémon Go was unquestionably the gaming sensation of 2016. It swept around the world, picking up legions of fans everywhere it went and being downloaded more than 100 million times by the end of August.
It became a massive sensation in Asia especially, where it went live in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Taiwan in August too. But there was one glaring omission to this trend, and that was China.
Pokémon Go banned
According to Reuters, the Chinese Communist Party has now decided that Pokémon Go will not be released in the country.
According to a spokesperson for the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the Government body in control of media censorship in China, the reasons behind their decision to ban the game are their “high level of responsibility to national security and the safety of people’s lives and property.”
“Given overseas consumer experience and cases, the game presents a big social risk, such as posing a threat to geographical information security, public transport safety, and personal safety,” he said.
It is certainly the case that Pokémon Go has been caused a stir in the area of public safety. It is alleged to have been a factor in a number of car accidents around the world, caused by distracted game players. There have also been reports of players being lured to places and then robbed.
But given the sheer volume of players downloading and playing the game, the proportion of incidents is relatively low and the response of the Chinese regime appears to be typically heavy-handed.
However, even if it did launch in China One Pokémon Go would have problems. It is built on a bedrock of Google services, including Google Maps, and Google is also currently blocked in China over its refusal to comply with state censorship.
Some have already accused the Chinese regime of hypocrisy in citing such reasons as an excuse to ban Pokémon Go. This is because there are already a number of domestic augmented reality games which operate in a similar way, available on the market.
China has something of a reputation for copying overseas innovations, and City Elves Go is their equivalent of Pokémon Go. It is produced by Tanyu.mobi, a Chinese company which has stated that they do not think the banning of Pokémon Go will affect their product, which has been available since March last year.
There are others that have followed down the same path too. Dimension Hunter and Find Red Packet are games by Chinese producers that employ similar augmented reality principles as Pokémon Go, whilst a new game Red Packets from the Sky is due out later this month.
Of course, China is not the only country which has chosen to block Pokémon Go. Iran has also banned the game; again citing national security concerns as their reason. Kuwait and the UAE have also issued strong warnings to players, but are yet to bring in an outright ban.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers are banned from playing the game and various historical and sensitive sites, such as US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Arlington National Cemetery, the Hiroshima memorial and Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, have chosen to ban the game.
But in China and Iran, it is some of the same old faces using national security as an excuse for online censorship once again. Of course, with VPNs in common use in both country to get around their strict censorship regimes, it is still possible to play Pokémon Go.
But for many in China, the global phenomenon that is Pokémon Go is yet another little pleasure that their Government is choosing to deprive them of.