Warning: stupidity virus coming to Hong Kong with Pokemon Go

Yonden Lhatoo says the last thing the city’s incorrigible smartphone zombies need is a global fad that will make them even more of a public nuisance

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 10:01am

You must have heard of the “stupidity virus”.

Media reports a couple of years ago claimed that American scientists had discovered a pernicious, submicroscopic agent known to attack human DNA and impair intelligence and memory.

Turns out a bunch of dumb journalists – or jaded hacks refusing to let the facts get in the way of a good hook – had got it wrong. What scientists actually found was a minor correlation between a throat virus infecting a small sample base of people and their performance in a couple of cognitive tests.

But that was then. These days you don’t have to be brighter than a 10-watt bulb to figure out that the virus not only exists, it latches on to social and political events to spread a rolling pandemic that has reduced entire national populations to masses of sheeple.

The world has watched them plunging off the clueless cliff like so many lemmings during the UK’s Brexit vote, and there’s more headshaking in disbelief to come as they get ready to elect Donald Trump as the next US president.

And now they’re all playing Pokemon Go, the latest gaming iteration of Nintendo’s suddenly rejuvenated “pocket monster” cartoon characters. Its clever use of augmented reality on a smartphone platform appears to have tapped into the “social” centre of the human brain, making people go ape for the app.

In a nutshell, the game encourages you to wander around the real world looking for cute little monsters which can be spotted and captured using your phone’s GPS and camera functions. It’s essentially a virtual treasure hunt.

Pokemon Go has only been out for a few days in select countries, and they’re already reporting all kinds of silly accidents and even opportunistic crimes.

In the US, test ground zero for puerile pastimes, it’s not only a matter of pedestrians wandering into lamp poles and oncoming traffic but also drivers playing the game behind the wheel, which takes the danger factor to a whole new level of idiocy.

Several teenagers have been arrested for using the game to lure victims into secluded areas and rob them at gunpoint. Some are calling it the world’s most dangerous game and have suggested that unsuspecting children might find paedophiles instead of Pokemon waiting for them at the end of their treasure hunt. Just imagine that.

There are no limits to Pokemon-related ridiculousness, as one Australian expatriate working in Singapore demonstrated by posting a foul-mouthed tirade against the city state online because he was so irate at the game being released only in the United States, Australia and New Zealand for now. A public backlash prompted his company to sack him.

Which brings me to the main point: releasing this game in Hong Kong is a bad, bad idea. Seriously.

We already have a severe problem with smartphone zombies in this crowded, fast-moving, stressed-out city. They’re everywhere, those incorrigible anti-socials with their faces buried in their electronic pacifiers, getting in everyone’s way.

I have often entertained dark thoughts when finding my way blocked by smartphone zombies while navigating busy streets, getting on and off escalators, and boarding and alighting from trains.

Now that they’re going to be playing Pokemon to boot, I can’t help thinking back to that seminal golfing scene in the 1993 film Falling Down.

Michael Douglas, as the protagonist having the ultimate bad day, stands over an elderly golfer dying of a heart attack after their confrontation and says: “And you’re gonna die, wearing that stupid hat. How does it feel?”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post