Open Thread: Public Memory & Pokemon Go

I know. I know. Everyone is writing about how Pokemon Go connects to whatever they work on. But here we are.

Given how Pokemon Go has kicked up controversy around how it uses public sites of memory and conscience, without in any way considering if it is appropriate to do so, I figured I would pull together some quotes and links and open this up as a point for discussion about the broader issues it opens up. I also, figured I would provide some quotes and links from work we have covered over time about augmented reality games and history too.

Various mobile games and apps have mobilized historical place data but none have come to this level of use and activity. So I do think the Pokemon Go craze provides an opportunity to think through some of the issues that hadn’t really come out already with these technologies when they weren’t reaching the scale that this game has.

So I’ve pulled together links to some of the conversations about this in the press and some posts from Play the Past about augmented reality. Please consider talking through the issues this raises for public history and memory in the comments.

Pokemon Go Public Memory Coverage

  • Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 2.09.06 PMWho thought it was a good idea to put ‘Pokemon Go’ in the Holocaust Museum? WTOP July 15 ““Why are “Pokemon” showing up at solemn national memorials, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum?…. Since ‘Pokemon’ is encouraging people to get outside, they are encouraging players to reach out to park rangers and see how they can integrate and see how they can integrate learning about the national parks while catching ‘Pokemon,’” she said. In fact, the National Park Service will host ranger-led Pokemon hunts on the National Mall this weekend.”
  • Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokémon here Washington Post July 12th “Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told The Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”
  • Pokemon Go players unwelcome at Arlington, Holocaust museum CNN July 13th. “Arlington, the burial ground for the nation’s war dead, tweeted out a somber request: “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.”
  • Holocaust Museum, Auschwitz want Pokémon Go hunts out USA Today July 13th. “Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said while he recognizes the potential for good virtual reality may bring – such as interviewing Holocaust survivors and potentially using them for holograms – there should be a line drawn when it comes to using memorial sites in games. “This can’t be another chapter, it can’t be another scavenger hunt. That’s a desecration of the memory of the victims and it’s a cheapening of the history,” Cooper said of using the Holocaust Memorial Museum for gaming.”
  • Hey, maybe don’t play Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum July 12th. “this solemn place of remembrance is being overrun with people walking around with their cell phones in front of their faces and not thinking about the Holocaust at all, which is kind of the whole point.”
  • Apparently, the 9/11 memorial is a stop on Pokémon Go July 11th. “At the same time, the game is also very effective at getting people out of their apartments and exploring their cities. Visiting these notable locations (even a memorial) may also be a learning opportunity for a user to discover things they didn’t know about where they live. Still, it seems a little insensitive to have that place as a gathering spot so people can scoop up little cartoon monsters. “
  • Yes, You Can Catch Pokémon at Auschwitz  July 11th. “That you can still play the game at Auschwitz is especially surprising, however, given that Niantic ran into this exact problem last year, withIngress. Players could battle for control of real locations, including those inside Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen. In this case, it seems as though Auschwitz isn’t a “gym” — and therefore you can’t “control” it — but it’s still a marked location where you can, incongruously, catch cartoonmonsters.”
  • Pokemon Go in Museums MuseumHack July 11th. ““Catching” Millennials Our museums, similarly, want to “catch” these difficult to reach children and millennials and attract them to the museum. We’ve seen previous attempts to attract these groups with varying success – how many children’s’ activity days, young member parties, and hands-on scavenger hunts have you seen?”

Previous Play the Past Discussion of Augmented Reality and History

As noted earlier, augmented reality isn’t a new thing and folks have been talking about augmented reality and public history for a while now. So I figured I would share some links to posts and some info about them for further exploration of the issue beyond this current game.

Augmenting Archaeology

Lies Here

Using SCVNGR to Build Playful, Mobile History “Treks”

Tecumseh’s Curse (Chapter 1)

Questions and Comments? 

So with that as context, I am curious what public history and digital history folks think the game prompts in terms of issues for the field. Please share your thoughts, as well as other links and examples, in the comments.


  1. At the end of this piece by AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums the issue of space rights/control is raised–which adds yet another layer of complexity to who can “project” what where, particularly if a wave of advertising AR develops. That said, how might museums create collections-based AR experiences in alternate spaces beyond their architectural footprint? Half-baked thoughts…thanks for creating a space to gather the conversation.

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