Though not yet officially released in Switzerland, the wildly popular augmented reality game already has thousands of the nation’s smartphone users hooked.
The GPS-aided game – created through a collaboration between Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, and former Google subsidiary Niantic Labs – is not yet officially available in Switzerland via Google Play or the App Store, and a release date has not yet been set.
But that hasn’t stopped the wave of Pokémania that has been sweeping the globe since July 6, when the app was first released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. It made its European debut in Germany on July 13, and was just released on Thursday in the UK.
Currently, would-be players in Switzerland can only gain access to the app via internet work-arounds, for instance by creating an account with the American version of an online app store, or by using a mirror website.
Part of the game’s allure lies in its scavenger-hunt-like reward system, as well as the blending of virtual and real worlds. It also brings with it a dose of nostalgia, with the goal being the “capture” of the Japanese characters that were the collectible obsession of so many 1990s youth.
Real world impacts
Official release or not, the social impact of the game in Switzerland is now an open question that cannot be ignored – particularly since absorption in the pursuit of Pokémon has already produced reports of injury.
On Thursday, Swiss health insurance provider SUVA issued a public warning to users, cautioning them to keep their eyes on their movements and off their phone screens.
“A little stumble can have big consequences," said the company in a statement. It also advised enthusiasts to stick to daytime gaming, when the risk of accidents is diminished. While it acknowledged that the game has many positive aspects – such as exposing gamers to fresh air and exercise – the benefits “ don’t do much good when hunting Pokémon ends in the hospital.”
Also on Thursday, the Zurich Police released a warning via Twitter:
"Have you caught the PokemonGo bug? Tips for playing safely: don’t lose sight of what’s around you, show respect, and never play while driving!"
In addition to safety concerns, elements of the game called “PokeStops” tend to be placed at real-world landmarks such as churches, statues, or notable buildings – which can cause problems when crowds of Pokémon players are drawn to these sites.
Inquiries to the Swiss interior ministry, Federal Office of Culture and cultural foundation Pro Helvetia indicated an awareness of the game, but no clear response on the potential legal or regulatory implications regarding public spaces, which if other countries’ experiences are anything to go by, can become inundated with users converging on their virtual quarry.
Earlier this week, requests to remove virtual PokeStops and Pokémon avatars from the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland and Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC surfaced after users reported spotting them.
"On Tuesday we sent a letter to the company asking Niantic remove the geolocation of the camp on the app," said Auschwitz Memorial spokesman Pawel Sawicki in a statement on Wednesday.
"We consider this kind of practice to be misplaced….We want to raise awareness generally to all game producers in respect of the memory of the victims of this largest Nazi death camp of World War II," he said.
Are you a Pokémaniac? Share your experience in the comments!
swissinfo.ch and agencies