The Pokémon Go trend which has swept across the globe has captured the attention of Iranians too, who have joined the multitudes taking to the streets all over the world to catch animated characters.
In Iran, however, the “real world” applications of the game – which requires players to go out into the public sphere – inevitably drew the attention of the authorities, who placed a blanket ban on it over unspecified “security concerns.” More specifically, the augmented reality app was declared forbidden by the High Council of Virtual Spaces – a body overseeing online activity, which was the subject of some ridicule in the media. The grounds? Fear of “the increasing spread of information and communication technologies” in Iran which could “create problems for the people and the country,” including the “global internet network” (way to open up to the world!) – in other words, the lack of filtering. Iran was the first country to ban the app.
Although the app was banned on security- rather than religion – related grounds (a Saudi fatwa against Pokémon’s card game version has been in place since 2001), Iranian Pokéfans have been tweeting in recent weeks about the difficulty of taking the app out to the public sphere in their home country, where they have to be on the lookout for Pokémon and morality police at the same time.
The press coverage of the ban was appropriately critical (and in several cases, mocking) of the Iranian authorities, using social media outlets to find and amplify the perspective of ordinary Iranians on the matter. And yet, it did not tie the ban and its implications into the wider issues at hand – particularly as it reflects on Iran’s willingness (or rather, unwillingness) to truly engage with, rather than filter out and suppress, the world with which it is supposedly seeking rapprochement.