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Vietnam begins experiencing the dark side of Pokémon GO

Thursday, August 11, 2016, 14:28 GMT+7

Reports of Pokémon GO-related issues began circulating in Vietnamese media less than a week after the phenomenon mobile game officially launched in the Southeast Asian country.

The very first accidents and robberies where Vietnamese ‘trainers’ – players attempting to ‘catch ‘em all’ – have had their mobile devices snatched during game play happened shortly after the launch.

On August 6, Vietnam, along with 14 other Asian and Oceania countries, joined the Pokémon GO frenzy, exactly one month after the San Francisco-based developer Niantic launched the augmented reality game in Australia and New Zealand. 

The game has earned Niantic $200 million after just one month.

It requires players to travel everywhere they can to catch the virtual creatures.

With their eyes glued to their smartphone or tablet screens, ‘trainers’ often lose awareness of their surroundings, and accidents are inevitable.

Pokémon GO lovers also risk losing their mobile devices to snatchers as they venture deep into alleys and isolated areas to ‘catch ‘em all.'

Similar situations have been reported in countries where the game is already available, and Vietnam is definitely no exception.

On Monday, a 35-year-old woman was hunting for Pokémon with her iPhone 6 Plus at Tao Dan Park in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, when a man approached her from behind and snatched her phone.

The incident occurred at 10:30 pm and the park was almost empty, however, a security guard managed to capture the robber, 19-year-old Nguyen Van Hieu, as he was attempting to escape onto Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.

Scenes of people moving about with their eyes glued to their mobile screens are not uncommon at other public gathering places in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, including 30/4 Park and the Nguyen Hue walking street in front of the city hall.

“Players are endangering themselves and risk causing accidents or falling victim to criminals,” Nguyen Nhat Thanh, deputy head of the District 1 police unit, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Tuesday.

Though innocent people may be putting themselves and their property in danger, the arrival of Pokémon GO to Vietnam is seen as good news for bag and phone snatchers who have reason to embrace the game, even though they may not be playing it.

“A friend of mine was so immersed in the game that her phone disappeared in the blink of an eye while she was walking down the sidewalk the other day,” Le Bao Hoa, a white-collar worker, told Tuoi Tre.

Hoang Le Thuy Ngan, a Go Vap District resident, admitted to the newspaper that she too lost her phone to a snatcher while hunting for Pokémon.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off the phone, even while walking outside,” she said.

Players also tend to forget about their other assets such as backpacks, bags, or even motorbikes, creating prime opportunities for accidents.

On Monday, two young people crashed their motorbike into a bicycle near the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica as they were attempting to catch Pokémon.

“It took me a while to realize what happened after falling off my bike,” one of the men admitted, “the only thought on my mind was how to catch more Pokémon.”

In the meantime, traffic police in Hanoi have begun imposing fines on those caught playing Pokémon GO while driving.

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