The explosive popularity of Pokémon Go has been marred by negative attention after users began playing the game in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other sensitive spaces in Washington, D.C.
The new augmented reality mobile game allows users to catch and train fictional creatures from Pokémon, the popular Japanese franchise, in real-world locations. After the game’s July 6 release, players began to post on Twitter and other social media sites that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was an active location for the app, known as a Pokéstop. Images also circulated of one Pokémon active inside the museum known for its ability to emit poisonous gas.
Andrew Hollinger, the director of communications for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, said visitors are discouraged from using the game at the museum, but added that technology can still play an important role in understanding the museum’s message.
“Playing ‘Pokemon Go’ in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is extremely inappropriate. We are attempting to have the Museum removed from the game,” Hollinger wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Museum encourages 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 far outside of our educational and memorial mission.”
Niantic, Inc., the company responsible for the development of Pokémon Go, did not respond to a request for comment.
Pokémon Go also drew criticism after visitors were spotted using it at National Mall and Memorial Parks areas, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The National Mall and Memorial Parks is an administrative unit of the National Parks Service.
In a Facebook post, National Mall and Memorial Parks officials urged players to be mindful of where they go to hunt Pokémon.
However, in a video released on its official Twitter account, the National Park Service reassured users they are welcome to continue playing the game in public spaces.
Chief of Public Affairs for the National Parks Service Tom Crosson said it is encouraging visitors to use the app to engage with parks across the country.
“It encourages folks and it inspires folks to go out and explore and not just for the national parks but in general. It’s kind of taking them outside their comfort zone and we want to get folks in the park,” Crosson said. “We want folks to go out to their national parks and explore and embrace these national treasures that we have. So, it just seems like a win-win.”
Crosson added that the Parks Service is attempting to have certain monuments and other sites removed from the game, and guests should be considerate in these spaces until that time.
“With regards to the game driving folks to sensitive sites, like the Holocaust Museum, like the 9/11 Memorial and other monuments, the National Parks System certainly has those, like the National Mall, like the Vietnam Memorial and other memorials and monuments to acknowledge solemn times,” Crosson said. “We are encouraging our guests to be respectful and to avoid those areas.”
Allix Hillebrand (GRD ’19), who plays Pokémon Go in her Rosslyn neighborhood, said she was shocked that the game’s developers did not anticipate these problems.
“I was honestly kind of surprised that Pokémon allowed those locations to be there in the first place because I thought, given that they obviously put a lot of time into the app, they would have been sensitive about that,” Hillebrand said. “I’m sure they’re going to allow people to opt out though.”
Hillebrand also noted some of the game’s potential security risks.
“I live in an apartment in Rosslyn, and our back courtyard, which is technically private property, is one of the Pokéstops, so when somebody puts a ‘lure’ on the Pokéstop and a bunch of Pokémon come, I can look out my balcony and there’s a bunch of people sitting in my courtyard who don’t live here. So it’s kind of weird,” Hillebrand said.
Other controversial locations within the game have included the 9/11 Memorial, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Arlington National Cemetery, according to authorities at these locations.
Though Hillebrand said the game is entertaining, she said there are obvious problems to be addressed.
“I mean it’s fun, but there’s certain aspects of it that probably should be adjusted, and I’m surprised that they didn’t think about these issues before coming out with the app,” Hillebrand said.
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