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'Pokemon Go' Hunters in South Korea Thwarted by War With North Korea

The global 'Pokemon Go' craze faces hurdles in South Korea, where Google mapping functions are restricted due to its conflict with North Korea.
Image: Illustration of the augmented reality mobile game \"Pokemon Go\"
The augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go" by Nintendo is shown on a smartphone screen in this photo illustration taken in Palm Springs, Calif. July 11.Sam Mircovich / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

The "Pokemon Go" craze that has gripped the world faces hurdles in South Korea, where Google mapping functions are restricted for national security reasons.

The augmented-reality game, where players walk around in real life seeking cartoon monsters to catch, relies on Google Maps to work. But in most of South Korea — which is technically still at war with Kim Jong Un's neighboring North Korea — those functions have been limited by the government.

However, some fans are already trekking out to one remote area where it can be played.

Image: Kim Jong Un in an image released on July 12, 2016
This undated picture showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (right) visiting a synthetic leather factory was released by the country's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.KCNA vis KNS / AFP - Getty Images

South Korea is the world's fourth-biggest gaming market after China, the United States and Japan, according to Amsterdam-based research firm Newzoo, potentially representing a big opportunity loss for Nintendo and game publisher Niantic if it can't be officially rolled out.

"Due to government restrictions on maps data, it's impossible for 'Pokemon Go' to work properly using Google Maps service in South Korea," a person familiar with the matter said, declining to be identified as the person was not authorized to speak on the issue.

Related: Here's What to Know About 'Pokemon Go' Phenomenon

Representatives for Niantic were not immediately available to comment. Nintendo and Alphabet's Google declined to comment.

Nintendo's first venture into mobile gaming has only been officially launched in the United States, Australia and New Zealand with other countries such as Japan slated to see a launch soon.

The craze has sent Nintendo's shares skyrocketing and although they lost some ground on Wednesday as investors took profits. The stock has gained 46 percent, adding nearly $10 billion to the company's market value since Thursday's close.

Despite the limited rollout so far, users in other countries have sought to get in on the action either by downloading the game file in some way or masking their account so that it appears as if they have either an Australian or U.S. account for example.

In South Korea, some impatient fans have rushed to Sokcho, a city close to the border with North Korea, where the game can be played as it has not been classified as South Korean territory in Google map data.

"I didn't go to some big tourist attraction; all I did was walk around for tens of kilometers to play a game. But I'm more satisfied with this than any other trip. I would still be in Sokcho had it not been for an urgent issue," one user posted on an internet message board.

Indeed, the city of Sokcho has been quick to capitalize on its unusual status, sharing maps on of free wi-fi areas and advertising itself on social media as "the only 'Pokemon Go' holy land on the peninsula."