PokéStops or Stopping Poké? Iran Reacts to the Pokémon Go Phenomenon

The author of this post imagines playing Pokémon Go in Tehran, holding the game up to a picture of Azadi Tower.

Post author Mahsa Alimardani imagines playing Pokemon Go in in front of Azadi square in Tehran, holding the game up to a picture of the monument. Screencapture by Mahsa Alimardani.

Pokémon Go has become a worldwide phenomenon with over 30 million downloads since its release on July 6, 2016 in selected countries.

The game uses Google Maps data to superimpose characters from the Pokémon series into your geographic surroundings. As you walk, your smartphone uses GPS to track your position in the world, and it will know if you get close to one of these characters. You can then capture the character on your phone screen, train it, and then deploy it in the “augmented reality” battlefield that is Pokémon Go.

Despite the fact that the game is only available in certain places, the craze has drawn in many players from other countries, including Iran, who have used VPNs to download the game.

How has Iran — the country with one of the most restricted Internet environments in the world — reacted to Pokémon Go?

Finding Pokémon in Tehran is not easy

Many Iranian users have commented on the difficulty of finding Pokémon around cities such as Tehran. A Reddit user in Iran asked the Pokémon Go Reddit feed on 10 July if others have been locating creatures in Tehran.

Hi, I have a quick question. I'm in Iran right now and I was wondering if pokemon go will work? I'm in the middle of Tehran so it's a big city but I can't find any information if the app even works here. I have 4g mobile data but I haven't seen anything special on the map. Thanks

Respondents to the post theorized that the application is blocked, but others noted that they had occasionally come upon some characters, and even indicated Poke stops in Tehran parks or gardens in the city of Shiraz. One Twitter user reported finding Pokemon by the historic Blue Mosque in the city of Tabriz.

A neighbourhood with Pokemon in #Tabriz…Kabood Mosque.

Another Twitter user in the city of Karaj described feeling happy that Pokémon had given him an excuse to go outside and move.

Tonight I went to hunt Pokemon, it's a very amusing game :)) at least I now have excuse to move since I barely do

A female Twitter user in Tehran jokingly complained that life has become difficult now that she has to hunt for Pokémon while being on the lookout for the country's morality police, who arrest and fine women for improper hejab.

It's quite difficult to be in the streets and be focused on both hunting Pokémon and on the lookout that gasht ershad don't hunt me. Life has become hard :))

Notable Iranian game developer Mohammad Mehdi Behfarrad offered some deeper analysis on the appeal of the game, theorizing that it might not have broad appeal in Iran for a number of reasons, including the nation's unfamiliarity with the Pokémon series that has been around since 1995.

نکته اصلی درباره بازی پوکمون داستان اصلی پوکون است که از فضا و ویژگی‌های داستانی آن به بهترین شکل در طراحی بازی استفاده شده است. به تعبیر دیگر داستان واقعی شکل‌گیری پوکمون در قالب تکنولوژی AR تبدیل به یک بازی سرگرم‌کننده شده است که طبیعتا برای مخاطبان هم جذاب است. آدم‌ها اساسا به دنبال تجربه‌های تازه هستند و طبیعتا در کنار هم قرار گرفتن این ظرفیت‌ها توسط کمپانی معتبری همچون نینتندو تبدیل به یک اتفاق می‌شود…از آنجا که داستان اصلی پوکمون خیلی در ایران شناخته شده نیست،‌ شاید سرعت برقراری ارتباط مخاطب ایرانی با این بازی مانند نمونه‌های دیگری مانند.

The main point about the Pokemon is the story and the best usage of the features of the story in the AR [augmented reality]  structure of the game. On the other hand the conversion of the story into this new entertaining technology is what attracts the masses. People are looking to new experiences and naturally when this comes together with a reputable company like Nintendo in this capacity it turns into an event…From knowing that the main Pokemon story is not very known in Iran, it may not have the same speed in connecting with the Iranian players.

Will Pokémon meet authorities’ demands?

Authorities have also commented on the game. Hasan Karimi Ghodosi, the director of the National Foundation for Computer Games (NFCG), said that he has been in talks with the game's developers. In the past, the NFCG has issued bans on games such as “1979 Revolution” a game depicting struggles of resistors of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as “Battlefield 3” a game that involved a US military invasion of Tehran.

Ghodosi explained to Mehr News Agency (an organisation owned by the Islamic Dissemination Organisation) on July 17 that the status of the game in Iran would depend on the game developer's cooperation with authorities.

درباره بازی پوکمون ما یک مکاتبه ایمیلی با سازندگان این بازی داشته‌ایم  با این مضمون که اگر قرار است این بازی در ایران توزیع و عرضه شود حتماً باید از فیلتر بنیاد ملی بازی‌های رایانه‌ای بگذرد و هماهنگی‌های لازم در این زمینه صورت گرفته باشد و در غیر این صورت ناگزیر از فیلتر و جلوگیری از عرضه بازی هستیم.

We had a communication through email with the developers of Pokemon Go and with the issue that if the game wants to come to the Iranian market it has to pass through the filtering of the National Foundation of Computer Games along with their cooperation, otherwise we have to filter and block this game in our market.

He further explained that the NFCG already had two conditions for the developer's of the game, which they had not communicated to them yet. These include keeping the game's data servers inside of Iran, as well as cooperating with the government to prohibit the game from targeting locations that could be of national security concerns.

The request to host servers inside the country might be seen as an extension of the demand from this past May by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace to all foreign messaging companies that they have a year to move the data they hold on Iranians onto servers inside the country or face censorship.

برای عرضه این بازی دو شرط را مدنظر داریم که البته هنوز به صورت رسمی به سازندگان بازی اعلام نشده؛ یکی اینکه باتوجه به حجم اطلاعات ثبت شده کاربران در فضای این بازی، سرور اصلی آن حتماً باید در ایران باشد و دوم اینکه نقاط تفریحی و مقاصد هدف‌گذاری شده در سراسر کشور برای تگ شدن در این بازی هم باید با هماهنگی و همکاری بنیاد مشخص شود. نباید نقاطی برای کاربر معین شود که از لحاظ موازین و قوانین کشور منعی برای حضور کاربر در آنجا وجود داشته باشد. مانند مراکز نظامی و امنیتی.
اگر سازندگان این بازی به دنبال ورود رسمی به ایران هستند باید این موارد را مدنظر داشته باشند اما با توجه به نامه‌نگاری‌ای که داشتیم آنچه از واکنش آن‌ها برمی‌آمد به صورتی بود که احساس نمی‌کنیم در شرایط فعلی برنامه‌ای برای ورود به ایران داشته باشند. بازار بازی‌های رایانه‌ای ایران همچنان برای بازِی‌سازان و شرکت‌های جهانی یک بازار پیچیده و ناشناخته است و به همین دلیل کمتر به دنبال ورود به آن هستند، به خصوص که درباره این بازی در همین محدوده فعلی بازار عرضه هم سازندگانش سود سرشاری را عاید خود کرده‌اند.

To supply this game in the country, we have two conditions that are not formally announced to the original game makers. Firstly, with attention to the information users register within the game, the original server has to be located in Iran and second all the targetted locations in the game for tagging around the country has to be coordinated and cooperated with the National Foundation of Computer Games. There should not be locations that users are prohibited to be in, like the military or national security locations.

If the game makers want to officially enter the Iranian market they have to comply with our rules but from their correspondence we see that they don’t have any plans to enter the Iranian market. Iran’s gaming market is a complicated market for developers and global companies and for this reason they are not looking into entering our market.

The director of the NFCG himself recognized that Pokémon Go's developer's were unlikely to cooperate with their demands, and would continue to operate as they have been inside of Iran for the past few weeks, with downloads through VPNs, which are ubiquitous in Iran.

22 comments

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.


Support our work defending online freedom of expression around the world.

justice+matters

Learn why our work is important »

Donate now

Close