Gamers rush to Sokcho for Pokemon Go GPS signal

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Gamers rush to Sokcho for Pokemon Go GPS signal

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A photo uploaded to Twitter of a gamer playing Pokemon Go on a mobile phone. A virtual monster to be captured is visible through the smartphone camera's real-world projection. [JOONGANG ILBO]

Pokemon Go, the newest mobile game from Nintendo that has caught the world by storm, is not yet active in Korea, but that hasn’t stopped local gamers from scouring the country for GPS locations where the app might work.

Pokemon Go, developed by Google-incubated start-up Niantic Labs and funded by Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, is an augmented reality smartphone game where users can catch and collect 3-D monsters that appear randomly in the real world as projected by a phone’s camera.

While Pokemon Go is currently not available on Korea’s Google Play or Apple App Store, local gamers have been able to download the app via foreign accounts. However, users who log on encounter a message that says a GPS signal cannot be found.

Pokemon Go’s GPS is based on Google Maps, but the Korean government has yet to provide detailed maps to the American company because of concerns over the release of sensitive information such as military base locations, since the South is still technically engaged in conflict with North Korea.

Pokemon Go gaming communities in Korea, though, found early on Tuesday that the game worked in certain areas in Gangwon, including Yangyang County, Inje County and the city of Sokcho. Some gamers’ screenshots uploaded on Wednesday to popular domestic webzine Inven showed the game working on Ulleung Island, 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) east of the Korean Peninsula.

Ecstatic gamers soon rushed to the country’s northeastern region to pursue the elusive monsters. Seat reservations on Sokcho-bound express buses leaving from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal dramatically increased Wednesday morning. Some buses were completely sold out.

Sokcho’s city government suggested on Facebook that the phenomenon has helped promote tourism to the city.

“Dozens of gamers are currently here in Sokcho to catch Pokemon,” said Lee Doo-hee, a Pokemon Go player. “I myself caught 20.”

“There’s this guy here in Ulleung who looks like a tourist, conquering all the places like he’s a local,” another player wrote in an online post. “I felt ashamed as an island gamer and ran all the way to the [building designated as a virtual] gym to catch Pokemon before he could.”

There is much speculation as to why Pokemon Go works in Gangwon, but a majority of gamers believe the area overlaps with the GPS sectors of Ingress, Niantic’s previous augmented reality game where players have to similarly navigate designated real-world landmarks on a virtual map.

Game developers have yet to verify this information.

BY KIM YOUNG-MIN, LEE DONG-EUN [lee.dongeun@joongang.co.kr]

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