Pokémon are banned across a sizable swathe of Cyprus. There isn’t a physical wall to keep them out – at least not in most areas. But in Pokémon Go a large area across the width of the Mediterranean island is still a Pokémon no-Go area, thanks to the country’s past.
Before being contacted by Pokémon Go players based in Cyprus, I admit to being pretty ignorant of the island’s recent history, and how its geography remains shaped by the after-effects of the country’s 1974 Greek-backed coup and subsequent Turkish-led invasion.
History lesson aside, the country remains divided by a United Nations Buffer Zone, a red ribbon on maps that cuts across the middle of the country. The internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus lies to the north, while in the south sits the island’s larger Greek Cypriot-dominated region. Between the two sits the Buffer Zone – an area which on paper sounds like a hazard, but in reality is home to 10,000 people – where Pokémon cannot spawn naturally.
The Buffer Zone was marked out almost 50 years ago as an area where military personel and equipment from both sides of the island were banned, in order to soothe tensions. 7km wide in some areas, it has long been home to a number of towns and villages, where residents were never removed. Today, those towns and villages remain, and can be visited easily. Where the zone passes through the country’s capital, Nicosia, it shrinks in width to a few metres, and can be crossed at various checkpoints.
The fact this area blocks Pokémon spawns is not a recent issue for Pokémon Go, but it’s also never been one which has sparked much attention. After all, out of the 10,000 people living in the Buffer Zone area, how many play Pokémon Go? A few. Though perhaps the real question is how many more might play if they could.
Visit the area and take your phone out and you’ll still be able to play Pokémon Go to an extent – there are still PokéStops to plug Lures into, Gyms for raid battles, and you can still use Incense to force Pokémon to appear for a limited time. But without help – which typically means using a premium item – Pokémon spawns do not appear on the regular. It means people who do live in the area typically travel to play elsewhere.
Why? The issue here appears to be related to the game’s map software, which simply identifies the UN Buffer Zone as a military area, and so blocks Pokémon from appearing.
“I have been playing Pokemon Go since its launch, with a small break in 2017-2018 for a few months,” Cypriot Pokémon Go player Solon Falas tells me. “Since then I have been playing almost every day, traveling to other countries in order to attend some events. I have almost never missed a major event and I am slowly working toward my goal of getting level 50 (currently almost 48).”
Falas has been helped by recent additions to Pokémon Go such as its community-run Wayfarer system, which allows players to nominate and vote on local points of interest to become part of the game. Through these, islanders in the Buffer Zone now have more places to use Lures – but these are, again, a premium item.
“I have been playing a lot at university with fellow students, which is in a pretty well-developed area with lots of spawns and PokéStops,” Falas continues. “But every time I visit my hometown [in the UN Buffer Zone] I cannot help but think – ‘what if there was a local Pokémon Go community here as well?!’
“At the moment, no one village or town can develop their own Pokemon Go communities here, since having no spawns at all is a major letdown.”
In some ways it’s a similar issue to that faced by the Greek island of Salamis, whose residents found themselves suddenly without Pokémon spawns due to an open-source map change in 2019. Then, attention on the problem nudged developer Niantic to intervene, and Salamis got its access back swiftly. Falas is hopeful that, with more awareness, Cyprus’ Buffer Zone residents might also have hope.
In recent years, some promising steps have been made towards a total re-unification of Cyprus, with on-again off-again talks held repeatedly over the past decade. In the meantime, however, Pokémon Go fans are hoping for a faster resolution – we’ve contacted Niantic about the issue and will keep you posted.