Student filmmaker Ng Kai Yuan talks about documenting the latest mobile gaming phenomenon to hit the city-state in his stunning time-lapse video.

Kai Yuan

Ng Kai Yuan, a Mass Communication student from Nanyang Technological University

Ever since Pokémon GO was launched in Singapore on 6 August 2016, it has been virtually impossible to walk down the city streets without seeing large gatherings of people with their heads down, lost in the abyss of their mobile phone screens.

While many embrace the mobile game as harmless fun that arguably promotes socialisation, city exploration and lots of walking, others are condemning it as a stupefying activity that’s breeding a nation of walking zombies.

Intrigued, Ng Kai Yuan – a third-year Mass Communication student from the NTU Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information – decided to do a social commentary on this cultural phenomenon as part of a photojournalism assignment. Here, the 23-year-old talks about his time-lapse video that captures the Pokémon GO craze in an unsettling yet stunning way.

Pokemon Go Still010 - 10

The Pokémon GO SG Mass Walk event at East Coast Park

What motivated you to do a social commentary on Pokémon GO?

This video was actually done for a school assignment; I had to do a story on Pokémon GO for an advanced photojournalism class. After discussing the various approaches to the story with my lecturer, I decided to attempt a landscape piece because I was inspired by what (local photographer) Darren Soh did for Political Landscape.

The idea was to show the crazy crowds playing Pokémon GO at different places in Singapore. I think this is the first time that we’ve seen anything like this. When else have we ever got to see such huge gatherings of people here?

Pokemon Go Still009 - 09

A congregation of players looking for Pokémon at Marine Parade Central

What made the time-lapse the best approach to capturing the Pokémon GO craze in Singapore?

What struck me the most about this whole Pokémon GO craze is the crazy number of people playing the game; but, apart from that, I also felt that it was important to show how the landscapes where these players congregate change over a period of time.

For example, you get to see Hougang transitioning from night to day at the end of the video shooting that took about seven hours! In order to show the transformation of the landscape, I had to compress time. Hence, the time-lapse was the best way to tell the story.  

Pokemon Go Still001 - 01

The Dating Go event at the National Gallery

How long did it take to make this video?

The whole process took about three weeks, but of course I wasn’t shooting on a daily basis. Research and shooting kind of took place concurrently because I was constantly checking for related events or new locations that is why you get to see events like Dating Go and the Mass Walk in the video. The editing process took two days.

How many places did you cover, and how were you able to determine the hotspots for capturing Pokémon?
Pokemon Go Still012 - 12

A large gathering of Pokémon trainers at VivoCity

I covered nine places, although one of them did not make the cut. These places include Chinese Garden, Bedok Reservoir, Hougang, Yishun Park, Vivocity, the Zoo, the National Gallery where Dating Go took place, and East Coast Park where Mass Walk was held.

Hotspots like Hougang were all over the news hence they were a no-brainer. I had to join certain Facebook groups so that I could be updated on the various hotspots. All in all, I think the locations were pretty well publicised all over social media!

Pokemon Go Still004 - 04

Yishun Park comes to life at night with the congregation of Pokémon GO enthusiasts

How long did you have to stay at each location to capture enough footage for a time-lapse?

Each location probably took about one and a half hours except for Hougang; I was there twice. The second time, I stayed the entire night because I wanted to see how long people actually stayed there to play the game. As you can see in the video, some stayed till daybreak.

What challenges did you face when making this video?

Making this video was really time-consuming and troublesome because there were just too many hotspots. I wish I could cover them all, but I had to cull out some locations for practical purposes. I also got checked by the police while I was at Hougang, but it was nothing major.

Pokemon Go Still007 - 07

Past sundown, Bedok Reservoir is no longer just a place for night exercise, but also a hotspot for finding Pokémon

Can you share with us your thought process behind the music selection for the video?

When I was deciding on what music to use, I thought it would be interesting to use the original Pokémon soundtrack. I wanted to try something new, so I pieced different parts of the OST and then arranged them chronologically.

If you’re familiar with the previous Pokémon games and listened carefully, you’ll find that the music takes you through the whole Pokémon journey, from battling gym leaders to going to the Pokemon centre.

Putting in the soundbites was a suggestion by my lecturer. I think it gave the video another dimension and puts you as a viewer at the location. It was pretty funny to hear what people were talking about as well! (laughs)

Pokemon Go Still002 - 02

The area opposite block 401 in Hougang is bursting at the seams with players who stay until daybreak to look for Pokémon

How long do you think this craze will continue to linger in Singapore?

I think the craze is dying down already; I don’t think this game has a very long shelf life to be completely honest.

What kind of social impact do you want this video to make?

I hope that people can take a step back and look at how crazy this is. How can a Snorlax popping up on the radar easily move a mass of people from one place to another just like that. Sounds ridiculous? You probably won’t think so when you’re playing it. It almost feels like we’re all just pawns on a chessboard.