Pokémon Go players rediscovering their neighborhoods' histories

Many of the game's Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms are based on a volunteer-run website that tracks the coordinates of historical markers.

Charles Krupa/AP
A Pokemon Go player shows his mobile phone while walking through the Boston Common, outside the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. On the opposite side of the wall (l.) is a bronze memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, comprised of black Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Pokémon Go players around the world are catching something they didn't anticipate along with their Pikachus and Bulbasaurs: a history lesson. 

Thanks to an agreement between Google and The Historical Marker Database, a volunteer-run website that tracks the geographic coordinates of historical markers, thousands of real-life memorials, plaques, statues, and landmarks have been turned into "PokeStops" in the popular game. 

Some players say the game's use of these historic sites, ranging from a Civil War battlefield in Chancellorsville, Va., to a Hells Angels clubhouse in New Zealand, has made them appreciate the history around them. 

"It gets you to learn about your surroundings," said Cheryl DiMarzio, a Pokémon Go-er from Providence, R.I., to the Associated Press. "Different landmarks, the statues, and historical places." 

One middle school history teacher, Anthony Golding of Tupelo, Miss., said he plans to incorporate historic PokeStops into his curriculum in the fall. 

"It's probably more about the game for them right now," Mr. Golding told the AP. "After the newness kind of wears off, we can start to have those conversations about the historical significance behind those PokeStops." 

The game's use of memorial sites has been criticized by some who say discretion must be used in determining which historic locations are used as Pokestops and occupied by collectable Pokémon. A number of historic sites and museums, such as the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., have formally issued requests that visitors refrain from hunting Pokémon on their grounds. 

As The Christian Science Monitor's Christina Beck reports

Although some may find the game harmless, if silly, critics of Niantic’s decision to allow Pokémon pursuits on memorial grounds say that the game trivializes the significance of some of the gravest events in human memory.

Auschwitz, for example, commemorates the deaths of millions of Jews and other groups persecuted at the hands of the Nazi party in Germany. Memorials to massive genocide, says chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt, are no place for games.

Many have reacted negatively on social media to Niantic’s decision to locate Pokémon at sites of reverence, saying that the game company could have made better choices, and that playing video games at these sites is "akin to dancing on graves."

While some historians and educators celebrate the intersection of history and gaming at appropriate sites, others worry that the animated creatures will distract players too much for the experience to have any real value. One historian, speaking to the Daily Beast, questioned "what kind of actual intellectual or even emotional engagement are people getting from these sites if they're glued to their cellphones the entire time and frantically searching for little cartoon characters?"

J.J. Prats, the founder and publisher of The Historical Marker Database, is more optimistic: "Hopefully people will take their eyes off the phone and read the historical markers."

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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