The Washington Post reports that the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is trying to get people to stop playing Pokemon Go in the museum itself. Apparently the museum has three “PokeStops” in the game, so there are people walking around the museum with their eyes glued to their smartphones, playing the game rather than actually looking at the exhibits and thinking about the monstrosity that was the Holocaust. The Holocaust Museum is now trying to see if it can be removed from the game.
If, like me, you don’t know what the hell Pokemon Go is — even though the Post article describes it as a “cultural phenomenon” — some background is in order. Pokemon Go is a game you play on your smartphone in which you walk around the real world and find and collect digital creatures. It came out recently and quickly became ridiculously popular and downloaded by huge numbers of people. The game encourages players to “catch ’em all.” PokeStops, of which the Holocaust Museum unfortunately is one, are places where you can win free items that evidently help you do better in the game.
The game is supposed to encourage people to get out and explore the real world — really, are we at the point where we need a phone app to do that? — but of course there’s something kind of bizarre, sad, and dangerous about people walking around outside focused on their phones rather than their surroundings. Just what we need, more hopelessly distracted smartphone watchers to join the constantly texting crew out here in the real world! Predictably, some Pokemon Go users are reporting suffering injuries because they’ve tripped, fallen into holes, crashed their skateboards, or — get this! — learned that you shouldn’t try to play the game while riding a bicycle.
I’m not a gamer, so I’m not going to get the allure of playing a game in the real world when you could just be interacting with the real world as it is. I’m not going to understand why people playing a smartphone game would risk life and limb trying to catch digital objects rather than, say, making sure they aren’t walking into traffic or stumbling into holes in a sidewalk. But you’d think that people would at least understand that it’s inappropriate and disrespectful to be playing a silly game in a place like the Holocaust Museum. And apparently the problem isn’t just with kids — the Post article linked above quotes thirty-somethings at the museum who were playing the game. It’s just another sign that, in some ways, the world is becoming a more juvenile, less serious place.
What’s next? People stumbling over cemetery headstones and interrupting burial services while trying to catch “Squirtle”? Players wandering around hospitals or nursing homes or churches hunting for “Doduo”? It’s embarrassing.