Gaming the System

I came to Acheron to cover a protest, and became a Pokémon trainer.

The opportunity to experience new subcultures was one of the things that initially drew me to journalism, but this isn't quite what I was expecting. Prior to a recently completed Google search, my Pokémon knowledge consisted only of a vague memory that it was once a cartoon. It turns out Pokémon is an entire media empire consisting of multiple animated series, video games, card games, a live action feature film starring Ryan Reynolds, and every form of merchandise imaginable.

It's also a tool of resistance fighters around the world.

Earlier today I met a source who offered to be my guide at a protest action planned for this evening. Rather than giving me a time and location, he set me up with a Pokémon Go account and told me to wait for an invite.

The mobile app "Pokémon Go" has been used for years as a means of anonymous communication among protesters and activist communities. Pokémon Go uses augmented reality technology to deliver a "real life" Pokémon experience to players by allowing them to capture virtual Pokémon and battle other players in real world locations using their phone's camera and GPS functions. Initially a global craze, the game lost some of its appeal due to issues with distracted pedestrians, injuries, and an alarming number of trespassing charges, but the app is still widely used by Pokémon enthusiasts.

Pokémon Go is also a completely legal, mobile platform with realtime geolocation updating that can be simultaneously accessed by thousands of anonymous users right under the nose of authorities.

The opportunity this game presents was documented in a 2019 BBC article by Danny Vincent. Below is an excerpt from this article. The full article is available here.

Hong Kong Protestors turn to Uber and Pokémon

By Danny Vincent

BBC News, Hong Kong

09 August 2019

In late July, Hong Kong protesters returning from a demonstration were attacked by a group of men wearing white shirts. Soon afterwards, anonymous adverts appeared online calling for a mass Pokémon Go hunt in a town where the suspected attackers had congregated a week earlier.

"If we said that we were going to an unauthorized protest, it would have provided good evidence for the police to charge us," said KK, an office worker and protester in his late twenties, who asked for his identity to be protected.

Thousands of protesters gathered at the location, recognizing that the video game - which lets players pit viral monsters against each other at real-world locations - had been used as a way to gather people together for a very different kind of battle...

"Many people think of creative ways to gather people," KK added. "We will occasionally 'play' Pokémon Go, or take part in Bible Reading Groups or History Tours."

Mass demonstrations against a now-suspended extradition bill started in Hong Kong in the spring. Among the protesters' demands are amnesty for anyone arrested during the demonstrations and greater choice in future elections held in the semi-autonomous city.

And they are finding increasingly creative ways to organize and stage their rallies. From chats on private messaging app Telegram to Uber's ride-hailing service, apps have become an integral part of the way Hong Kong's youth-led movement is organized...


Continue reading this BBC article here.

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