Pokestops in Iraq

ost children around the world had endless dreams of meeting professor Oak to receive their first Pokémon, and continue their journey of becoming Pokémon trainers. Little did those children know that the opportunity would in fact present itself at a later time in their lives.

On the sixth of July 2016 the day of its release Pokémon Go defied the ways of conventional online gaming; introducing the world to new ways embedded in old beloved characters. Iraq was no different from the rest of the world. Locals were in a frenzy when the game became available in our region. Players were on a Pokémon hunt, trying to catch them all because you simply “gotta catch them all”. The first thing the players needed to do in order to get ahead in the game was locate all the Pokestops and Gyms. A Pokestop is where Pokémon Go players go to collect poke balls, eggs, and potions. A Gym on the other hand, is the competing scene of the game. In a Gym two individual players from two different teams compete over holding the specific location.

After playing the game for a couple of days, the players from Erbil noticed that Niantic, the company that developed the game has chosen some interesting locations to serve as Pokestops and Gyms in the area. There are approximately 60 Pokestops and 10 Gyms in Erbil. Out of the 60 Pokestops 6 of them are actual hangout spots in the city, 11 of them are mosques and churches, and the rest are random statues, water fountains, and streets. Ironically enough, some mosques are chosen as Gyms as well.

Some of the chosen locations surpassed others, for being both unusual spots for Pokestops, and also for being rather progressive. There are for instance, two Pokestops located opposite each other on the 100 Meter road in Erbil. One of those Pokestops is located in a mosque; the other is located in a church. When the players discovered these two Pokestops, they were presented with slogans such as “Pokémon Go, the only thing that can bring Muslims and Christians together.”

However amusing it would have been if Niantic had decided upon these locations manually, the truth is that these locations set for Pokémon Go were not initially selected for this game. Before Niantic develops Pokémon Go it developed another game that also required identified locations around the world. Ingress was released on November of 2012; the game required its players to travel around the city in order to collect portals. When choosing location for Ingress the developers focused on selecting historical and cultural locations. They also depended on Google’s geo-tagged images to identify locations. Niantic did not feel the need to choose new locations for their new game Pokémon Go; so instead they used the data they had from Ingress.

It is evident that the game used aspects of the city’s culture to identify its locations. The data from Pokémon Go indicates that mosques and churches are among the most tagged locations by the people of the city. So, as the players were mocking the locations chosen by Niantic, they failed to realize that it was the city’s own population that was responsible for the positioning of the available Pokestops and Gyms in Erbil.

Can any of our readers from Baghdad and other parts of Iraq please report on local Pokestops? We’d love to hear from you.


Lara Saeed is a graduate of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. She holds a BA degree in English Literature. During her four years in university, she was a staff writer for AUIS Voice, the first independent on campus newsletter in Iraq. When she is not busy reading, writing, or editing Lara likes to… read.

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