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September 12, 2016updated 20 Jul 2021 10:31am

“Pokémon No”: is crime forcing the residents of Medellín to abandon the world’s favourite game?

By Oliver Griffin

The Colombian city of Medellín is famous for a lot of things. Being the former home of deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar probably still tops the list. (And, FYI, the second season of Narcos , the Netflix dramatisation of his life – complete with Brazilian accents – is coming this week).

The city’s dramatic turnaround has been a talking point for visitors from all over the world, too. Recently, Medellín has also enjoyed the declaration of peace between the government and left-wing guerrilla group the FARC, which – after 52 years of conflict – marks the end of Latin America’s longest war. 

However, the road to recovery is a long one, and crime is still an on-going problem in the city. As such, following the release of the insanely popular Pokémon Go app, local paper El Colombiano decided to warn residents that no districts in the city were safe for playing the augmented reality game. 

According to Medellín’s System for Security and Coexistence, mobile phone crime remains a problem across the city. Despite improvements in the local crime rate, then, playing a game that involves wandering the streets, phone in hand, is probably unadvisable. 

The most dangerous area for Pokémon Go fans is La Candelaria, in the city centre, where three out of every 10 robberies involves mobile phones. Between January and August 13 this year, 2,334 thefts were reported to the authorities. Men are the most common victims, accounting for two out of every three robberies.

Additionally, Pokémon hunters have also been advised to avoid playing the game in the afternoon, which is when the majority of the mobile phone robberies take place. 

Despite the warnings, both Medellín residents and foreign visitors continue to play – though perhaps with more caution than they would in other cities. 

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“I have the game but don’t use it as much as I would usually use an app on my phone,” says Mason Denaro, an Australian graphic designer currently living in Colombia. “When it came out, I saw many people back home playing it, but I try and limit the amount of times I pull my phone out in general in Medellin.

“I’m extremely hesitant to be walking around with my phone less aware of my surroundings just in case, as it does give me a certain level of vulnerability.”

But for John Restrepo, a local programmer, playing the game is just about being sensible. “I feel safe or not depending on where I play,” he explains. “I usually go to the same places that I consider safe.

“When I’m moving on the street I’m always very careful, looking around. But when I’m in spots like Parque Lleras [in the city’s fashionable El Poblado district] I’m totally relaxed.”

A spokesperson for Niantic, Pokémon Go’s developer, said, “We encourage all people to be aware of their surroundings and to play alongside friends or family, especially when you’re exploring unfamiliar places.”

But they added: “Please remember to be safe and alert at all times, don’t drive and play, abide by local laws, and respect the locations you visit and people you meet during your exploration.”

After issuing its warning, El Colombian added that mobile phone crime had fallen in Medellín on the whole since the game’s release. Nothing like a bit of scaremongering, eh? 

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