Sunday, 21 August 2016

Crouching Tiger. Hidden Dragon. Chasing Monsters.

What do you get when you cross a man with a ponytail and a mole on his face playing Pokémon go and a driver honking at him in a mall entrance? Well, if today's papers is anything to go by, you'll get a heated exchange and a fight.

The police were called in and both men were handcuffed. They were arrested for the offence of affray, and if found guilty, they face up to one year or fine $5k, or both.

In Parliament last week, Pokémon go was singled out and one NMP Rajaram said, "Again, and increasingly, consumers have to accept responsibility for playing the game."

Lesson? (This is a long screed, so pardon me). Here goes.

Forget about catching spiders. The world is busy hunting down monsters. It used to be crouching tiger and hidden dragon. Now its chasing monsters and people are converging at parks, malls, private properties and graveyards to religiously capture those otherworldly creatures with a nonchalant swipe of their index finger (the cooler ones use their pinkie; the more aggressive ones, middle).

This hungry ghost seventh month festival will see the territorial landscape getting more crowded than usual. Apart from studiously appeasing the ancestral spirits with food and burnt offerings, the finger warriors are taking to the street to lead the ghost busting trail on a mad rush to disarm monstrosity.

The one difference however is that the seventh month lasts for only, well, one month before the spirits pack up and head down-south. But the Pokémon craze is here to stay and come this September, the game will be equipped with a blue-tooth-low-energy-wearable-device for a more personal, futuristic touch.

When the fictional squealer in Animal Farm declared that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," the same applies to Pokémon Go in that some monsters are more equal than others.

And the prize catch of the day is the slumbering snorlax, who is ideal for battle with its high hit points (whatever that means for an ignoramus like me). The overbloated somnambulant cat-mouse mutant is very rare and its recent sighting at Punggol Park caused a Mexican-run of Pokémon Go fans crossing a relatively busy road with car jamming to a halt and horning with disgust.

Local businesses are diving into the craze as well and for good profitable reasons. A dentist admits that he is "releasing lures every day at a location 10m away from his clinic at The Rail Mall in Upper Bukit Timah since Monday." The reason? The dentist said, "I am not trying to attract footfall like the malls. I am just trying to make the wait at my clinic more bearable and pleasant for my patients."

Mm...I wonder whether a good book or some quiet reflection while waiting would have a better medicinal effect?

Nevertheless, he's right about the malls and footfalls because Resort World Sentosa, Ion Orchard, City Square Mall, Singtel, Starhub and M1 are all releasing lures on a grand pandemic scale not so much to attract those furry ethereal animals. No way Hosea. They are merely secondary target to these companies. They don't increase overall profitability directly. What these corporate vultures are trying to bait are those hot-blooded, novelty-seeking social bipedal animals instead. And they are coming in the busloads with a hunger that is out of this world. The irony here is that humans are using monsters to bait their own kind.

The reality is that this Pokémon craze has reached unbelievable proportions and Nintendo and Niantic are laughing all the way to the bank. It is reported that Nintendo's market capitalization had more than doubled to hit $42.5 billion last Tuesday.

Here, the indulgence vendor Johan Tetzel's jingle that "as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs" would equally apply for Nintendo's bank account with this modern tweak: "As soon as the download in the phone rings, the monster from one territory springs."

With a craze this huge, you can rest assured that the society will be divided. The fault lines are split between those who swear by the game and those who literally swear at it. There will also be people who play it for recreation and those who avoid it so as not to ruffle their style, standing and status.

Lastly, some see it as a game that fosters community, creativity and healthy competition, and others see it as a perpetuation of satanism, pantheism and polytheism. And it is reported that "Kedah Fatwa Committee has ruled that the Pokémon Go game is haram due to its potential to "jeopardise faith" in Islam."

Monsters Inc. strikes back I guess.

Here is the downside to the game. Two enthusiasts actually fell off a 50ft cliff playing the game. There were also reports of road accidents, robbery, gamers disturbing the peace and storming into private estate, military installations and churches. Four teenagers on a monster hunt had recently been rescued from a mine after getting lost in the complex. And now our first reported (and arrested) mall fight.

What is most unfathomable is to have people playing on the site of Auschwitz Memorial. It is reported that "in one case, a player claimed to have found a Koffing at the Holocaust Museum. The creature in the game excretes noxious gas, which some deemed inappropriate due to the use of poison gas during the Holocaust to murder millions of Jews." Some lines are just not meant to be crossed, regardless.

Alas, we are generally attention and sensation seekers. And the convergence of consumerism, internet and technology have reduced our attention span, heightened our drive for greater highs, and turned us into short-term pleasure seekers. For this reason, we are always on the lookout for the next new craze and we can't wait for one to come before we readily abandon the one before it.

One professor from NTU commented that "Angry Birds and Candy Crush were massively popular, but players lost interest and moved on to other games." Breakdancing, goli (marbles), spinning tops, yo-yo and Kendama have gone that way. I guess it's just a matter of time for Pokémon Go.

Personally, I don't prohibit my children from playing Pokémon. In fact, I don't talk much about it to them. I once asked my son, 14, why he's not playing the game and he told me this with pretentious toughness, "I've got a life."

Well, life or otherwise, Pokémon Go and any game of this genre will draw the people and money in because we are basically thrill-seeking, competitive and social animals. The catch is that if you build them, they will come. And if you push the right buttons, they will stay long enough until the next big thing comes along.

Here I recall what Eric Hoffer once said, "When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other." And Pokémon Go is the perfect mass mobilization social copycat exercise where such unfettered freedom comes fully alive. Most of us would go to where the action and crowd are. There is definitely fun to be had when people are engaged in the same activity en masse. It's an inclusive feeling of identity and community on a large scale.

But let's hope that the familial and community fun do not mutate into a form of personal obsession and cause the gamer to escape the real world just to immerse in an augmented fantasy reality. Or worse, turn players into "monsters" themselves being triggered by the slightest of agitation like the mall fight.

Because, if you think about it, at the end of the day, what matters most is not to capture those pocket monsters. On the contrary, what matters most is to "capture" the respect, affection and trust of the people we love. And you just can't do that hiding in a world of imagined monsters

Let me end with what Stefanie Sun (who recently released her new song "Rainbow Bot") said regarding her privacy: "Aiyah, I don't keep such a tight lid on my personal life. I don't hide at home and am everywhere with my family. It's just that everyone is playing Pokémon Go these days not Spot-the-singer-with-the-kid." I guess we can always turn a recreation into an obsession and miss out on the real good stuff in real life.

And as Jesus told Martha: "But few things are needed--or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

That's about eternity perspective. The earthly parallel of that is family and loved ones, and Sun has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her (on this side of heaven). Cheerz.

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