Pokémon Go Craze Invades Museums, Memorials & Cemeteries

Player using the Pokémon Go game within the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., United States.
Source: TheAgency (CJStumpf)
Player using the Pokémon Go game within the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., United States. Source: TheAgency (CJStumpf)

Pokémon Go is a certified phenomenon. It is the number one app on both the iPhone App Store and Google Play. In the game, players travel to real-life public locations where they can find Pokémon superimposed over real world images using your phone’s camera in something known as “augmented reality.”

But some of these real-life locations are not considered appropriate for gaming. Places where the Pokémon have shown up include the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, the Vietnam Veterans Memorialthe Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the 9/11 Memorial in New York,  Arlington National Cemetery, and monuments in national parks.

The Holocaust Museum in DC is not taking this lightly. “Playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is extremely inappropriate,” said Andy Hollinger, the director of communications for the museum. “We are attempting to have the museum removed from the game.”

There is a website set up with a link for sites to have themselves removed from the game. Some have questioned why a museum that did not invite the game into their site would have the burden of getting themselves removed. On the other hand, Samara Hutman, the executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, said the process only took about an hour.

Some locations have embraced the game. The National Mall and Memorial Parks have encouraged visitors to get selfies with the Pokémon at their sites although they remind visitors to “be respectful of the memorials and other visitors”.

Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Mall, said that there had been no problems with the game at their sites. “As long as it’s not disruptive to others or the meaning of the memorials then we don’t have a problem with it,” he said.

The Holocaust Museum is home to three locations in the game. In one unconfirmed image, the character Koffing appears at the memorial. Koffing is known for emitting poisonous gas which is so inappropriate at this particular location that people wonder why the developer, Niantic, and The Pokémon Company don’t address the issue more directly.

One newspaper found a group of players at the Holocaust Museum. A member of their group had released a lure item in the game which released a swarm of creatures, attracting a small crowd in the process. “It’s not like we came here to play,” said a friend of the player who released the lure. “But gotta catch ‘em all.”

Arlington National Cemetery tweeted, “We do not consider playing ‘Pokemon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity.”

Stephen Smith, a spokesman for the cemetery, said that they had not seen any issues with the game but wanted to act before they came up.

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz memorial, said he wasn’t familiar with the game (it is only available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand) but he has seen screenshots online of Pokémon in Holocaust memorials. He said that using memorials as locations in the game is “absolutely inappropriate”.

“We hope that the authors of the game will take this into consideration and remove such sensitive places like the Memorial from the game.”

Many museums and memorials have their own apps for guided tours of the location. It would be difficult to tell who is using the official app and who is playing Pokémon.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE