SINGAPORE: The hunt for Pokemon is still going strong in Singapore, six days after the wildly popular augmented-reality, location-based game arrived on our shores.
In the game, aspiring Pokemon GO players – called "trainers" – have to catch and collect virtual Pokemon that appear on their mobile screens. This has also prompted many to step out of their homes, in the hunt for the close to 150 Pokemon that populate the game.
Channel NewsAsia visited three locations in Singapore from the late evening of Wednesday (Aug 10) to the wee hours of Thursday and spoke with avid Pokemon trainers armed with smartphones and power banks.
According to Mr Kuan Tien Soon, a Bishan resident, the game has encouraged him to take a walk around his park every evening. “I just had my dinner, so I decided to come down here and I think it will help in my digestion,” he said.
The 30-year-old, however, confessed that his walks only started after the launch of Pokemon Go. “I've really walked a lot since the release of this game and I think it helps in adding an exercise regime to my daily routine. Overall, I think if people see the game in a positive light, it will add a healthy dimension to their daily routine.”
Mr Kuan was part of a sizeable crowd of about 30 residents seen strolling along Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park at about 10.15pm on Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, a slightly larger crowd of about 45 residents was also at Toa Payoh Town Park closer to midnight.
Pokemon catchers seen at Toa Payoh Town Park. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
“I feel that everyone is like a walking zombie now,” said 20-year-old Natalie Tan, who considers herself a Pokemon GO addict. “They’re just staring at their phones and not interacting at all.”
The final-year Nanyang Polytechnic student was seen at Toa Payoh Town Park at about 11.45pm on Wednesday evening, swiping her index finger on her mobile phone, in the midst of catching a Pokemon. Ms Tan said she has been spending more time each day on the game, and chalked up about two hours on Thursday playing Pokemon Go.
“I started playing about three or four days ago and I think I’m addicted already. It’s so late at night but I’m still out here, walking around to catch Pokemon,” she admitted. “Before the introduction of this game, I’d prefer to just sleep at home. It’s crazy because I won’t call myself a gamer, but this is the first-ever handphone game that I’ve been addicted to.”
Besides catching the critters, one of the objectives of Pokemon GO is to generate enough Poke Balls, healing potions or boosts at PokeStops. It is also where lures are set, to attract all kinds of Pokemon - and humans.
At least four PokeStops have been set up at the perimeter of a playground surrounding Blocks 401, 403 and 415 at Hougang Avenue 10, and at about 12.15am on Thursday morning, close to 200 Pokemon trainers were seen gathered at the location.
Crowds gathered in Hougang at night focused on their mobile phones as they play Pokemon GO. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
The virtual stops, with their lures, have resulted in a constant flow of Pokemon available for capturing. Taking their cue, Pokemon trainers have made themselves comfortable by sitting on the floor, benches or on portable stools they brought along. And while lured by the prospect of Pokemon, trainers seem to also have been equally practical in repelling mosquitoes, if the lingering scent of citronella was anything to go by.
The surge in Pokemon trainers has given businesses in the areas a boost as well. According to workers at a food centre near the Hougang playground, more customers have patronised their stalls since the launch of Pokemon GO on Saturday. Ms Ang, a helper at a stall that sells barbecued food, said business has more than doubled.
Food and beverage retailers have benefited from the rise in Pokemon GO players. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
The busiest time for her and her fellow workers is now between 7pm and 10pm, she said. Prior to this, the peak period would only last for about at hour, from 7pm to 8pm. Ms Ang also said she has seen as many as 300 people at the playground.
Mr Ng, the owner of a nearby provision store, has also seen more customers. To deal with the increased demand for drinks and snacks, he has decided to work round-the-clock this week. “My business has improved by at least 30 per cent,” he said. “You can see people streaming to this spot from about 5pm, and they stay here until 1am.”
A check on a 7-11 outlet located in front of the playground also found empty shelves at the convenience store.
Empty shelves at a 7-11 outlet near a popular Pokemon location. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
At 2am, there were at least 100 Pokemon trainers still gathered at the spot. Ms Evelyn Huang, who works shifts, said Pokemon GO has resulted in her losing sleep. “I used to be asleep by 11pm or 12am, but I find myself playing until 3am or 4am these days,” said the 31-year-old.
The Hougang resident, who visits the spot almost every night, also added that she has walked a lot more because of the game. “The furthest I’ve walked for this game was from Hougang to Punggol,” she said. “It took me about an hour.”
Another Pokemon trainer, Mr Gabriel Zhang, who was out hunting for Pokemon with his friends, noticed that more people are also starting conversations with other trainers out on their hunt.
“I find that more people are talking to each other these days,” the 26-year-old said. “Even at the roadside, people are friendlier and will tell strangers where to get the various kinds of Pokemon. Some came over to talk to me and my friends to find out more about the game.”
He added a note of caution however: “It makes you happy when you walk along the street and see a rare Pokemon. But people are also stopping on the streets out of the blue and it’s getting quite hazardous … Sometimes, cyclists also stop in the middle of nowhere.”
On why he thinks Pokemon GO has been such a viral sensation, Mr Zhang offered an explanation: “I think Pokemon is a game we used to play when we were young, and now, you walk around catching Pokemon just like in the television series, so I guess that’s why the craze is here.”