GAME ON! Pokemon craze sweeps the world

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A Pokemon reveals itself on Queen St as commuters walk on by. Photo/Michael Craig
A Pokemon reveals itself on Queen St as commuters walk on by. Photo/Michael Craig

InAPPropriate?

As throngs of Pokemon Go players traipse around to real-world landmarks in pursuit of digital monsters, some ticked-off property owners are asking to have their locations in the fictional Poke-verse removed.

For Valerie Janovic, a 19-year-old psychology major at Brandeis University, the game went too far when the image of a poison-gas-emitting pocket monster called Koffing was pictured near the US Holocaust museum's exhibit on World War II gas chamber victims. Her online petition to have the site removed from the game has collected more than 4500 supporters by yesterday.

"I just don't think people should be playing a game where people remember people who suffered and were tortured and who died," she says.

Besides the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, several churches and cemeteries including Arlington National Cemetery want their in-game locations removed to keep crowds of players away.

The addictive, location-aware smartphone game gives digital incentives like Pokeballs as rewards for visiting real places. The locations, known as Pokestops and Gyms, are based on landmarks submitted by players of Niantic's earlier game, Ingress.

Niantic offers a form to request exclusion, but it's neither automatic nor guaranteed. It's a mystery how quickly, if at all, Niantic will respond. Several requesters said they got a stock response saying, "Thank you for reporting this PokéStop/Gym. We will review and take appropriate action."

At first, web designer Boon Sheridan was just mildly annoyed at the traffic and cars that blocked the driveway to an old church that has become his home in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was labelled a Gym where players pit their Pokemon, or pocket monsters, against each other in battle. His attitude changed when his virtually obsessed visitors began leaving behind physical trash.

"There's a lovely public park across the street so we've suggested [the developers] adjust the GPS coordinates," he said.

At the East Renton Community Church in Renton, Washington, players have come by day and night, sometimes leaving the gates open, a potential invitation to criminal activity, office manager Rona Heenk said.

We can't possibly monitor it all the time, and we don't have a way to discern whether or not the adults who are coming to play the game are just here to play or casing our location
Rona Heenk

Mobile Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Mobile, Alabama, had a dozen gamers show up, some walking around burial plots with cellphones in hand, others driving aimlessly down roads. President Timothy Claiborne said he's all for people having fun, but would prefer they have it at a local park.

"This is private," he said. "I owe it to the families we serve to provide a sense of decorum here."

Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor, said private property owners may adopt a Pokemon No Go policy and bar players from physically entering their building or grounds. But he said there's no legal right to compel the game's creators to remove a location from its lines of code.

"It's important to note that the Pokemon are not there on the property," he said. "What's happening is that a particular location triggers the display of a digital monster on your phone. The monster is only on your phone."

Niantic, which has Japanese game company Nintendo as a major investor, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Gaining designation in the game as a Pokestop or Gym can be beneficial. Cafe owners have set up in-game lures to attract unique digital creatures in the hopes potential patrons with real money chase them into the store. The Adventure Park playground in a forested part of Maryland invited Pokemon Go players to come to take advantage of its lures this weekend and get $5 off admission.

What's happening is that a particular location triggers the display of a digital monster on your phone. The monster is only on your phone
Ryan Calo, law professor

Everything you wanted to know (but were too afraid to ask)

Confused by the Pokemon Go mania sweeping the world? You're not alone. For those who don't the difference between a Squirtle and a Zubat, here's a look at the game, how to play it and some of the problems it's causing.

WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO I GET IN ON IT?
Pokemon Go is a free game app that you can download for your iOS or Android smartphone. The game asks players to wander their real-world neighbourhoods on the hunt for the animated monsters made famous years ago by cartoons and trading cards.

Players build their collections, make their Pokemon more powerful and battle other trainers.

Set up is relatively quick. You customise your avatar - choosing the colour of its hair and style of clothing - then set off on your adventures. Fans like how it takes gaming into the streets and gets people walking around outside instead of sitting in front of a TV. Part of the setup process also involves signing into the app with either an existing Pokemon Trainer Club or a Google account.

SO HOW DO I PLAY?
The app displays your avatar amid a grid of streets and other bits of geography, such as rivers and parks. It's like a bare-bones version of Google Maps.

But it takes a little getting used to. The streets don't have names on them, making it tough to determine which way you need to walk.

Look around and you'll see floating light-blue blocks that signify "Pokestops", landmarks that could be anything from the entrance to a park to fancy stonework on a building.

Tagging these spots with your phone earns you "Pokeballs", which you can use to throw at, and ultimately collect Pokemon. The actual Pokemon - there are 128 initially listed in your profile's "Pokedex" - also appear on your grid from time to time.

Tapping on them brings them up on your screen, allowing you to fling your Pokeballs at them. The idea is to bop them on the head and capture them inside the ball.

A Pokestop at The Empire Tavern. Pokemon Go smartphone app game. Photo/Michael Craig.
A Pokestop at The Empire Tavern. Pokemon Go smartphone app game. Photo/Michael Craig.

HOW DOES AUGMENTED REALITY FIT IN?
The app makes it look like the Pokemon are right in front of you by using your phone's camera to capture an image of the street and display the Pokemon on top of it. This has resulted in some pretty funny pictures on social media.

But I found the augmented reality feature also made it tougher to hit the Pokemon. For example, a Zubat kept flying above the top of my phone's screen. Turning the feature off by flipping the switch in the top right-hand corner placed the Zubat right in the middle of my screen, making him an easy target.

WHAT'S THE BIG PROBLEM?
While it's great that people are out walking and exploring, a lot of them are also walking with their heads down glued to screens. This has prompted worries about people walking into traffic, trespassing onto private property or finding themselves in unsafe situations.

Some real-world locations aren't so keen on attracting players, either. Operators of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland have asked that their site be removed from the game, saying that playing it at the former Nazi death camp would be "disrespectful".

- Bay of Plenty Times

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