For anyone holding out some faint hope that Pokémon Go would someday be released in mainland China, we have some bad news.
China’s top media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has announced that augmented reality games like Pokémon Go will not be approved for release in China because they are threats to “geographic information security.”
We’ve heard this kind of criticism before and it’s unclear why SAPPRFT took so long in coming to its final verdict. All the way back in July, a Chinese expert specializing in matters relating to artificial intelligence suggested to the Global Times that Pokémon Go could divulge Chinese military secrets.
Say a player was sent hunting for Pokémon at a beach in Sanya and were to then upload images from the game to the internet. This would be perfectly harmless, unless that area happens to be the location of a well-hidden military base that is not shown on Chinese mapping systems.
If players were shooed away from where they are not supposed to be, this info could be relayed to Niantic, the American company behind Pokémon Go. Game developers could look for areas where lots of Pokémon were spawning, but none were being caught, and would then be able to draw some problematic conclusions.
This was just one of the reasons why when Pokémon Go madness swept Hong Kong, Taiwan and the rest of the world last July, mainland China was left out in the cold playing domestic knockoff versions and the PLA was warning wandering gamers away from military barracks in Hong Kong.
The Global Times notes how the (former) extreme popularity of the mobile game has also led to instances of privacy invasion and unsafe driving. Just two days after the game had been released in Taiwan, police had already fined 349 drivers for playing Pokémon Go while behind the wheel. Also in August, a Hong Kong teen fell into a river while playing the game. Then, there was this Snorlax stampede in Taipei.
Considering that the worldwide hysteria over Pokémon Go has largely died down, it’s not clear how hurt Chinese gamers will be over this national security decision. Soon after the app was released, Chinese netizens theorized how it was an American or Japanese conspiracy aimed at “exploring Chinese secret bases.”
But it was also they who went on the offensive, invading Japanese servers and taking over a gym located at the infamous Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead including those executed as war criminals after World War II, using a Dragonite nicknamed “Long Live China!”
By Matt Bonini
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