When Augmentation Grows On Us

Image Source: ibtimes.co.uk

Innovation was slowly grinding to a halt, each year required fresh concepts and every MNC out there who made their humble living from the tech-industry wanted something new to invest in, something new to reap profits out of, something new to capture the consumers’ interest. The existing tech was just not enough and advancements in those didn’t really give anything with an edge. Out of the vortex suddenly came augmented reality and out of that came Pokémons tumbling one after the other.

There was an euphoria following the grand release of the game Pokémon Go, it was something which finally fulfilled our childhood dream of becoming Pokémon masters and the sudden level of proximity we had in our portable devices gave us near completion of our childhood fantasies. The game which was released by Niantic Inc. was their second attempt at using augmented reality (first being the game Ingress) and the second attempt took the world by storm. The release saw tremendous response and it bounced the whole franchise of Pokémon into a new level of fan-fare and popularity. Amidst controversies, server break downs and law suits the game gave a taste of augmented reality to everyone with a smartphone. Here my aim is not to write just about the game or about the technology behind it or what it holds for the future, my aim is to simply highlight one particular incident associated with this game upon its arrival on Indian mobile screens.

The game has not officially released in India yet, majority of the access we get comes from third party sites and installing ‘.apk’ files from the sites become pretty much a cakewalk for any android user. And the officially unauthorized reception the game got in India was not much different from what the game got in other parts as well. And the popularity of the game resonated in metros, malls and parks and many even joked that this will finally get people to go outside. The augmented reality captured screen space definitely in India as well but not without mixing with its own fair share of controversies. The unofficial exposure the game enjoyed here has already raised some concerns and considering how much money companies like Disney are investing in these formats these developments are quite interesting.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Gujarat High Court claiming the game must be pulled off from the active domain and the PIL had the two prime reasons to back it up, one was that it acted as a threat to public security because the game could be used by people irrespective of their surroundings which could put them as well as others around him in danger. This reason was repeatedly quoted by many countries as a potential cause of public hazard. The second reason however was quite unique to our country and our country alone. One of the petitioners (Alay Dave), told the Gujarat High Court that in the game, images of ‘ Pokémon eggs’ are shown in the places of worship of various religions (shown on the Pokémon virtual map on the mobile phone’s screen), which “is seriously hurting religious sentiments of many worshipers”. Now this came out as something rather curious because the court had elements of piracy, illegal downloading and public safety on one hand and religious sentiments on the other. The make believe attribute of the game was stretched to a whole new meaning.

As much as religion is a pivotal point in our country, the fine line between the concept of make believe and what to believe has merged into one another crossing over boundaries. Challenging the game over the threat it poses to public safety is quite sensible and considering the ever increasing menace of piracy and online security the concern also seems valid but raising the topic with relation to religion and its sanctity makes one stare in awe, on how fascinating the degree of convergence between these intangible concepts really are, on one side we have sanctity and on the other virtual eggs challenging this intangible sanctity, something quite unique to consider indeed.

Though one (who reads the above line) can feel a mix of sarcasm between the lines above, my intention is to focus on how serious this issue really is from the perspective of our respected Judiciary. Our country is marching ahead, progressing forward into a brighter tomorrow, and if the recent frenzy for ‘Jio’ sim cards is any indication of this progress, we can safely assume that technology does play a major role in it. And if such a scenario similar to the ‘virtual egg offense’ happens then how do we deal with it? Do we scoff at it and claim that ‘we have developed beyond religious augmentation’ or do we ban everything that might offend our fellow religious brethren?

The Gujarat High Court for the time being has postponed the case (the PIL) seeking for methods to ban the game in the meantime. And when the case rolls again a safe bet would be that they will ban the game or try to impose the ban to an extent possible stating public safety. But wait what happens to the man who wanted his religious sanctity from augmented eggs?

Only time will tell.

Originally published at www.urbanchaupal.com on October 10, 2016.

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