Religious leaders, security officials sound off on Pokémon Go

The augmented reality video game Pokémon Go is coming under the lens of authorities worldwide who are concerned about its distracting, 'addictive' nature.

Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters
A Pokemon appears on the screen next to a woman as a man plays the augmented reality mobile game 'Pokemon Go' by Nintendo in Bryant Park in New York City.

Pokémon Go's elaborate taxonomies of fantastic creatures might seem innocent enough. And for the Millennials who make up the biggest portion of the game's consumers, the look and sound of those creatures brings a taste of childhood.

But just like the first time around, Pokémon's enormous popularity is causing cultural ripples across the world.

On Wednesday, a council of top clerics in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa banning the game, reported Arab News. The clerics cited elements of gambling as reason for the ban, in addition to prohibitions concerning polytheism. Their pronouncement echoes one given in 2001 against the original version of the game.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, ahead of the game's release in the region, figures of influence have raised objections on different grounds. Al-Jazeera reported on Tuesday that the deputy chair of Al-Azhar University in Egypt warned against the addictive qualities of the game, comparing it to "alcohol substance abuse." 

Both in the Middle East and around the world, the game app is also irritating security officials. The Israeli Army sent a message to soldiers last week ordering them not to use it on military bases, calling it a "source for gathering information," since it requires access to the players' location and camera, according to Haaretz. Israeli's military has long struggled to clamp down on soldiers' use of social media networks that allow photos to be posted online.

The US Department of Defense told that they have no plans to issue new military-wide rules concerning Pokémon Go. But one military base near Tacoma, Wash., warned via its Facebook page against "[chasing] Pokémon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings or homes on base," citing "reports of serious injuries and accidents of people driving or walking while looking at the app and chasing after the virtual Pokémon."

In Indonesia, a French man was arrested after wandering onto a military base as he hunted Pokémon, according to The Guardian. Police say he was later released after it became clear that he had trespassed accidentally.

In Bosnia, a nongovernmental organization has urged users of the game to remain aware of their surroundings, citing the dangers posed by tens of thousands of unexploded land mines left over from the 1992-1995 war, reported CNN. "We received information that there are cases where users of the Pokémon Go app in Bosnia are entering into mined forests and risky areas in order to find Pokémon," Posavina bez mina, A Bosnian demining charity, wrote on its Facebook page.

The game is yet to come out in much of the world, with releases so far limited to a more than 30 countries. Japan has delayed the launch of the game based on concerns that too many users will overload the game's servers. But it has attracted some 26 million users in the United States alone, and generated some $35 million in revenue there, according to Forbes. Many users – 90 percent of whom are between 18 and 34 years old – say childhood memories factor into its appeal.

"It's just fun bonding with people," 21-year-old Larry Pang told the Associated Press. "You actually have to socialize and meet face to face. It's really nostalgic for me."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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