Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been busy in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. This week, his website leaked a giant Democratic National Convention email cache, sending the party into disarray and sparking the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But has he kept up with other news? I visited the embassy on Monday, across the street from Harrods in Knightsbridge, to find out whether Assange could play Pokémon Go.
Assange has been in the embassy since 2012, avoiding extradition for rape charges in Sweden. In February, a United Nations legal panel ruled that Assange is being illegally detained by the U.K. and Sweden, a claim the British foreign office denies. With Assange refusing to leave and the U.K. refusing to spark a diplomatic crisis by entering, the situation remains in limbo.
Meanwhile, Pokémon Go is one of the biggest mobile games of all time. It also requires, crucially, movement. The phone’s GPS tracks player movement and maps them onto a virtual world. Assange can’t move too far, but that doesn’t mean he can’t catch anything.
Arriving at the embassy, I made a discovery that blew the lid off the whole case: the embassy is a Pokéstop. Assange can, in fact, sit there all day, grabbing Pokéballs and healing his gym roster.
That may not be as surprising as it first seems, though. Niantic Labs, the company behind the game, used photos uploaded to Google to build up a picture of significant local landmarks, as well as user suggestions. “The Pokestops are submitted by users, so obviously they’re based on places people go,” CEO John Hanke told Gamesradar. Assange is positioned in a bustling tourist area, but as a person of interest he’s probably played a role in increasing foot traffic around the embassy.
The Pokémon that came by weren’t too bad either. Pacing the building’s perimeter, I caught a Zubat, then a Gastly, then another Zubat, followed by a Rattata. A Pidgey came next, which proved annoyingly obstinate to catch. I considered running away from the battle, but that’s just not how we roll here at Inverse.
Finally, the Pidgey got in the ball. The screen transitioned away, and I froze.
During my Pidgey encounter, someone had placed a Lure Module at the embassy’s Pokéstop. I looked up. I had a good view of the building’s front-facing windows, those same windows where Assange spoke in 2012 to a crowd standing below.
Had he seen me? For all I know, Assange could’ve been watching me pace from across the street. Potentially. Maybe?
Lure Modules are given to players when they level up. That, or they can buy them with in-app purchasing. The Telegraph reported in 2010 that Assange received an $86,000 annual salary — had he splurged some of his WikiLeaks savings on Pokémon power ups?
I pulled myself together and regained focus. Assange wasn’t watching me. I don’t think. Anyway, now that the module was down a Krabby had appeared.
In the span of 30 minutes I caught the above nine Pokémon.
Nobody knows for sure how many Pokémon Assange has caught, if any, and there’s a chance he isn’t playing to avoid handing information over to third parties. If he is, though, he may be one of the few able to play without actually stepping out the door.