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Don’t Go There: Are Libraries Appropriate Places to Catch Pokémon?

by on July 15, 2016

The Pokémon GO sensation has skyrocketed in a short period of time, going from a much anticipated game release to a global sensation. It illustrates a couple of things: first, that augmented reality is the future of gaming, and second, that people are ready for that future.

But there are immediate issues. Criminals immediately took advantage of the fact that players were revealing not only where they were, but where they were going.[1] Privacy issues were also raised, and if you are playing you should check your privacy settings, although Niantic says they are working on a solution.[2] Then Pokémon GO players immediately started showing up in some odd places to try to fill their Pokedex. The question rose: Where is it appropriate to capture Pokémon? Is anywhere fair game?

The Holocaust Museum says no and has asked visitors to stop hunting there.[3] It seems like common sense would dictate the inappropriateness of this behavior, but it hasn’t. The drive to capture that last Meowth to fill a Pokedex is being used to excuse all kinds of inconsiderate behavior.

Some locations are embracing the trend. Rangers in the National Mall will even help visitors hunt Pokémon, but they have set some limitations. “There are some places in national parks, all over the country, but even here in D.C. on the National Mall, where it may not be appropriate to play Pokémon Go,” says one. “For instance, at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial—a place that is designed to be a site of solemn reflection….”[4]

What about libraries? As they have increasingly transformed from places of quiet research and librarians shushing visitors into community centers with makerspaces, Wi-Fi access, and classes and events, should visitors GO there?

GO Can be Used to Teach

From elementary schools to colleges, games and the gamer mentality are being used to teach students. “Imagine that you’re now playing a game, that you’re exploring the Earth, exploring Mars, you’re searching for habitable planets; everything you’re doing in the game is based in physical reality, biological reality, and chemical reality,” says Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University. “Students will be able to pass any of those tests in chemistry, physics, or biology, just taking that subject by playing the game.”[5]

The reason the rangers are helping players on the National Mall? “Players come to catch a Pokémon, but are led around and then see all of the great historical things here.”[6] Visitors might come for the Pokémon GO, but they stay for what they discover around them.

A similar strategy could be used at libraries. GO brings patrons in: the other offerings of the library inspire them to stay.

GO can be a Distraction

On the other side of things, GO can be a huge distraction to non-GO players. Imagine you are sitting doing research on a kiosk, and over your shoulder you see a person walking, eyes fixed intently on their screen. You ignore them, but a moment later you hear a loud cheer, even through your earbuds.

Coffee shops fill with Pokémon GO players, and some shops even post signs declaring Pokémon are for paying guests only. What should be good for business can instead be detrimental if spaces are filled with non-paying Pikachu seekers.

GO Hype Will Normalize (Maybe)

Pokedex will be filled. Those who have started playing out of curiosity will drop out of the game if they don’t become addicted or dedicated. The history of games like Angry Birds and others has proven this. We exist in a period of hype. Pokémon GO has drawn in users by the thousands, and to ignore the long lasting effects of that would be foolish.

Many businesses and other institutions are trying to cash in on the craze; some libraries have already joined them. Should yours? There is a balance to be struck, but if we can draw in more visitors without being disruptive, it may be time for us to GO. Libraries must decide if they have appropriate spaces and resources to manage the traffic that might come with allowing game play.

Now shhh. I am hunting a Dratini. I am pretty sure he is hiding in the Reference section.


Everything Librarians Need To Know About Pokemon Go!

[1] Rob Thubron, “Criminals use Pokémon Go to lure victims and rob them at gunpoint,” TechSpot, July 11, 2016.
[2] Joseph Bernstein, “You Should Probably Check Your Pokémon Go Privacy Settings,” BuzzFeed, July 11, 2016.
[3] Andrea Peterson, “Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokémon here,” Washington Post, July 12, 2016.
[4] Paul Ollig, “National Park Rangers Will Help You Hunt Pokémon On The National Mall” by Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed, July 11, 2016.
[5] Michael Crow, “Dr. Michael Crow,” (keynote presentation, ASU GSV summit, San Diego, CA, April 18–20, 2016).
[6] Paul Ollig, “National Park Rangers Will Help You Hunt Pokémon On The National Mall” by Chris Geidner.

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