Remember Pokémon? Of course you do! Even if you weren’t born in the Pokemon heyday, if you’ve been on social media or had access to the internet in the past few weeks than you have seen the craze. Pokémon are everywhere. Even the last place that you would expect them…Holocaust museums.
Since its release on July 6, Pokémon Go has had millions of downloads. This re-creation of a childhood game counts on nostalgia to make kids from five all the way to 35 want to take part. This version differs from previous ones because it adds a virtual reality element to the game. Virtual Pokémon await users in physical locations, so in order to catch them, players have to walk around a lot. Numerous Pokémon are located in highly populated areas, such as at monuments and other large attractions.
But after a Pokémon sighting in Auschwitz, people began to get nervous. NY Mag commentator Brian Feldman noted “that the location of [these things] would appear in the game is not directly the fault of the developer, Niantic. The game uses location data gleaned from Google Maps, and Pokéstop locations are often imported from user suggestions made on a previous Niantic game, Ingress. Pokémon themselves are randomly distributed on the map: A developer didn’t say, ‘Let’s make sure there are some Pokémon at Auschwitz.’ On the other hand, it would be simple to restrict certain areas and prevent Pokémon from appearing in or around them.”
It seems strange that someone would even open the Pokémon Go app at such an emotionally charged place, but the Pokémon craze seems to defy all logic. Andrew Hollinger, the communications director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC had this statement for Vox. “We feel playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is inappropriate. We encourage visitors to use their phones to share and engage with Museum content while here. Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls outside of our educational and memorial mission. We are looking into how the Museum can be removed from it.”
The problem with the inappropriate placement of Pokémon and Pokéstops (places where users can add to their inventory) in Europe may solve itself, since the game only officially launched in the European market on July 13. So, the users noticing Pokémon and Pokéstops in Auschwitz may have been American travelers using the app. Pokéstops are meant to be placed at popular locations so that the most people possible can benefit from them. “Pokéstops and Gyms in Pokémon GO are found at publicly accessible places such as historical markers, public art installations, museums and monuments,” Pokémon Company and game developer Niantic said in a statement to Vox. So, it’s not actually surprising that the Pokémon would be found in these locations, because they are in fact “historical markers.” Pokémon have also been sighted at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. But the problem stems deeper than just the inappropriate places where people are playing the game.
The National Safety Council recently released this statement: “The National Safety Council urges pedestrians to exercise caution while playing the Pokémon Go augmented reality game, and the Council implores drivers to refrain from playing the game behind the wheel. Distraction is a well-documented threat to safety, both on foot and on our roads. Distracted walking has contributed to more than 11,000 injuries in the last decade[i]; distracted driving has killed thousands[ii]. Every single injury and death could have been prevented if pedestrians and drivers stayed alert and prioritized the task at hand.”
So, for all Pokémon trainers out there, be safe and respectful when you’re out there “catchin ’em all.”