The Pokémon craze is back — and in an example of the should-have-been-expected consequences of merging the virtual and real worlds, you can apparently “catch ’em all” at your local former concentration camp.
Pokémon Go, a smartphone version of the popular late 1990s video and trading card game, has become an omnipresent phenomenon since its release last week. To put it in perspective: The game soon will have more Android phone users than Twitter does, and it sent parent company Nintendo’s stock up 23 percent in one day.
The game is an example of so-called augmented reality — it allows players to experience capturing Pokémon (the game’s various cartoon creatures) in real life, with the help of their phones’ GPS systems. A high-tech scavenger hunt, the game takes place out of doors, and sends users to PokéStops — real-life places marked as checkpoints by the game — to get in-game items.
Even though the game has only been released so far in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, the Pokémon Go craze already has swept Israel.
The cartoon creatures have been found at sites such as the Western Wall.
More officially, Haaretz reported that the Israeli Navy Facebook page has joked about hunting Pokémon on the high seas.
“There are some Pokemon that only we can get to #gottacatchemall,” reads one post.
The Home Front Command is using Pokémon to highlight the need for civilian preparedness, asking Israelis to post pictures of the virtual creatures in their real-life home shelters. Even Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has joined the fun, posting a picture of a Pokémon found in his official residence.
However, the ubiquitous game has also made its way into much more controversial territory.
New York Magazine reported that a user found a virtual Pokémon (a Rattata, to be exact for all you gamers) at the museum at Auschwitz. Since then, others have discovered the animated creatures through their phones at the former Holocaust camp.
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is home to three different PokéStops — and therefore is attracting people who are glued to their phone screens. One user circulated an image online of a Pokémon named Koffing (for the poisonous gas it emits) appearing in the museum’s Helena Rubenstein Auditorium, which features testimonials of Jews who survived Nazi gas chambers. Although the image appears only in the player’s phone, its virtual presence is enough to get players scrambling to the spot.
“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.”
Jewish cultural sites are not the only ones acting as controversial Pokémon playing grounds — New York Magazine pointed out that users can play at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan and near a North Carolina statue of a confederate general.
According to New York, the game’s developer, Niantic, ran into similar trouble last year, when one of its games, Ingress, allowed players to battle for control over real-life locations — which happened to include many former concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen.
The company apologized last July. Looks like it might need to issue another statement this July.
JTA Wire Service