Gaming apps, mugging and bad case of bruised Pokéballs

Time for trouble (make it double)

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Back in the 1970s, cockney actor Mike Reid’s catchphrase on children’s TV was “Runaround – GO!!!”

For the benefit of American readers... oh look, it’s too difficult to explain. However I would love to hear him shout “Pokémon – GO!!!” if only to alleviate the relentless publicity over what counts as children’s entertainment today: a VR gaming app that adults play in order to get mugged, discover dead bodies or fall down holes.

Mike can’t comment, of course, what with being dead for the last nine years. But I’m sure he would have made a notable contribution to the debate about Pokémon Go – probably along the lines of “Yer ’avin a larf!”

My flight of fancy arises from the daily news updates about unsuspecting players of Pokémon Go being lured into traps by ruffians who force them to hand over their handsets.

Well, you get what you pay for – which here in the UK so far has meant paying nothing at all, since impatient players are sideloading dodgy Android installers for free.

Pirate-APK-infected-with-a-remote-access-tool… I choose YOU!

Call me unsympathetic but surely grown-ups who get their smartphones stolen as a result of mindlessly stumbling around following directions from a children’s gaming app deserve a sharp kick in the Bulbasaurs.

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I blame the unquestioning evangelical hosannas constantly being sung at the altar of gamification.

It was bad enough when Twitter gamified messaging for the social media age by encouraging trolls to write increasingly mad tweets in order to go viral.

Apparently, retail store customer reward apps have gamified the act of buying stuff.

I even heard someone claim that Minecraft was “gamifying gaming”.

Now, it seems, Pokémon Go has gamified mugging.

The story goes that players are being enticed to innocent locations – you know, behind abattoirs, dark alleys near the docks, etc – in the hope of “engaging in battles”. And that’s pretty much what they get, except with little chance of winning more than a black eye and bruised Pokéballs.

Some unsuspecting players claim to be tracking down what’s called a “Pokéstop”. All credit due to the game developers: their naming of the feature was nothing if not prescient. (1) you play Pokémon Go, (2) you get mugged, (3) you stop playing. It’s a Pokéstop!

The cynic in me suspects the supposed negative publicity generated by such stories will simply heighten the demand for the legal version of the game when it reaches these shores.

Even the publisher backtracking on its needless grab of full access permissions to your Google account has kept the title at the top of gaming news feeds.

Providing a fascinating insight into public attitudes towards security and trust, the publisher subsequently announcing that the game doesn’t actually rifle through your Google account, honest, has been enough to put gamers’ minds at rest.

I must apply this thought process next time a man in a hat turns up at the door offering to redo my driveway, and I hand him my front door keys on my way out. That’s OK, he’ll only use the welcome mat, not rifle through the house. He told me so.

Mindless trust: isn’t it fantastic?

There is no suggestion that Niantic has or would ever abuse the full access permission you gave them. That said, if you were fool enough to grant them full access permission to your Google account in the first place, it wouldn’t count as abuse if they had chosen to make full use of it. That’s what “permission” means.

No, what baffles me is why adults are going mad over a game for kids. This is a recent phenomenon.

When I took my daughter to see Pokémon The Movie 2000 when it first came out, the cinema staff helpfully left the main auditorium lights on throughout the film, allowing other parents to read a newspaper until their afternoon’s torture came to an end.

Admittedly, I watched the film. Well, I had to: I was already familiar with the characters and their ages and their backstories and their clothes and their catchphrases from watching a billion years’ worth of the Pokémon TV series with my kids.

I even fancied Jessie from Team Rocket a bit, but that was only due to her crazy dyed hair.

My deep-seated fetish for crazy dyed hair is, I suspect, the result of watching too many episodes of Gerry Anderson’s UFO series on TV when I was a child. The purple hair of the women on Moonbase must have struck a chord.

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Now I’m thinking about it, Jessie had red hair, not purple. In the cartoon, it was her partner in crime, James, who had purple hair. This has left me somewhat confused, so perhaps I should be less judgemental.

I was no less confused walking in to a client’s premises a few years ago, observing that the huge white-wall in the project office, normally covered with objective lists and flow diagrams, had acquired a spreadsheet-like table of seemingly random numbers.

Were these mysterious figures code numbers for problem files? Were they internal references to some obscure system component? Something to do with last night’s load balancing exercise, perhaps?

After some investigation, I learnt that this table was the project team’s Candy Crush scores, updated throughout the day.

I was about to ask how the boss felt about such a public admission of time-wasting on the job… until I recognised her initials at the top of one of the columns.

She held the departmental high score.

This suggests that it is me alone who is the weird one here. It’s just me singularly failing to appreciate the appeal of pissing away not just my personal time but my working hours too on a fucking children’s toy.

Welcome to the gamification of a boot stamping a human face, forever.

What next, middle-aged men rocking to the Naruto theme tune?

Pokémon? GO!!!

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Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He is not an ageist snob. After all, he regularly watches cartoon animation and reads graphic novels. And, of course, he writes this infantile column.

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