Why 'Pokemon Go' Players Are Flocking To A Town Near The North Korean Border

The mobile fad gets an odd twist in South Korea.
People in Sokcho, South Korea, can fish and play "Pokemon Go."
People in Sokcho, South Korea, can fish and play "Pokemon Go."
Kim Jaehoon via Getty Images

The promise of a Pikachu is driving South Koreans closer to their neighbors up north.

Would-be “Pokemon Go” masters are traveling to Sokcho, a South Korean fishing town that’s about 37 miles away from the North Korean border, HuffPost Korea reports. It’s apparently the only place in the entire country where the popular mobile game works.

The reason why is strange and complicated.

Reporter Subin Kim explains that the game’s use of location data is restricted in South Korea. “Pokemon Go,” which was created in part by Niantic Labs, requires players to walk around and visit real-world spots to capture monsters. The game is based to some extent on Ingress, another game from Niantic. Notably, Niantic Labs was once owned by Google.

With us so far?

Ingress was built with special access to Google’s map data. When Niantic created its map for Ingress, Kim reports that Sokcho fell within the game’s North Korea region. Look at the map below: Sokcho is the city in the northeast portion of South Korea that falls outside those diamond shapes that comprise the game’s South Korea region. The name of the city, which appears just above the AS16-ROMEO-01 diamond, is spelled with these characters: 속초.

This matters because South Korea’s national security laws inhibits location data, which prevents most of the basic Google Maps services from working in that country. Consequently, “Pokemon Go” doesn’t really work there either ― you can read English speakers grousing about this on Reddit.

But because the game doesn’t put Sokcho in the South Korea region, it works there.

Oddly enough, North Korea is extensively mapped on Google, so you could get detailed walking instructions from, say, the North Korean Workers Party Monument to the Mansudae Art Theater if you happened to be navigating the despotic state.

Google Maps

No such luck if you want walking instructions from Paris Baguette to Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, though. The government will only allow Google Maps to offer public transit information.

Tourism has boomed in Sokcho as a result of “Pokemon Go,” HuffPost Korea reports. Bus tickets to the city this weekend are mostly sold out, and Sokcho City Hall has scrambled to provide maps of its public Wi-Fi services for the influx of visitors.

A version of this post first appeared on HuffPost Korea. It has been translated into English and adapted for a U.S. audience.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Google Maps misclassifies Sokcho as being in North Korea. That is not the case, though the games in question do not include Sokcho within the South Korean region.

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