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Staying Safe and Having Fun With Pokémon GO

I sprayed myself with sunblock, dressed comfortably for walking, and packed water, an iPod for listening to podcasts, and an extra battery for my iPhone. Then I headed to Inwood Hill Park to see if I could catch ‘em all. Or, at least, I’d see if I could catch more than usual …

Pokemon Gameplay

The Pokémon GO augmented reality game has been in the news a lot lately, for both positive and negative reasons. It’s been discussed on morning and late-night TV shows, promoted online, and it’s been the subject of an ever-growing number of articles. In the early stages of the game, players walk around using their mobile phones looking for Pokémon (cute “pocket monsters”) that they can capture. As players gain more experience they can evolve their Pokémon into more powerful creatures, and they can also bring their Pokémon to locations where they can battle against each other. The game developers chose real-world locations as PokeStops (where players can check in and pick up free supplies) and Gyms (where Pokémon can fight each other), and some of those locations are more or less appropriate places to have people wandering around taking pictures with their phones.

Oh, did I not mention the pictures? Well one of the coolest aspects of this game (and/or one of the more diabolical marketing decisions) is that players can take photos of Pokémon in the “real” world. You can do this before capturing them, or even instead of capturing them if you’d prefer. Images of this augmented reality have helped to spread interest about this game far and wide, because they’re both entertaining and surreal:

Drowzee on the SubwayKitty and Pidgey

One of the main advantages of the game is that it encourages players to get up and walk around, which is a welcome change from “sit in front of your TV with a controller and don’t move for the next several hours.” A video game that not only encourages players to walk around but to walk farther and explore different neighborhoods is sending a positive message. Over the past several days, I’ve walked through different neighborhoods looking for PokeStops and discovered murals and architectural details that I’ve never noticed before. One of my favorite local PokeStops is one I’ve passed on my way from Kingsbridge to Riverdale. The bell tower or “Riverdale Monument” is a great location for a PokeStop because it’s easy to find, because you can easily check in while you’re cruising past it on the Bx7 bus, and because it won’t inconvenience anybody else if you stop there.

Riverdale Monument

One of the main reasons that this game has generated controversy is because some of the real-world locations that have been designated as PokeStops or Gyms are NOT good places to hang out and play a game or try to take hilarious photos. At this time, it’s unclear if the designated PokeStops and Gyms can or will be changed. There are many locations (like, for example, the Kingsbridge Library!) that would love to be listed as PokeStops. But there are many other locations (like Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum) that are definitely not thrilled with all of the Pokémon GO fans who’ve been showing up lately.

Another major complaint about this game is that it can encourage dangerous behavior. Players looking for PokeStops or hunting for Pokémon need to stay alert. If they’re not paying attention, they could wander into traffic, trip on a curb, fall into a pond, or find themselves in unfamiliar neighborhoods. And some of the perks of the game, like being able to set a “lure” to get more creatures to come to one location, can be turned into dangerous situations if criminals are waiting at that spot for people to show up holding their smartphones in their hands.

So, what should players do, and what can librarians do? Well, one of the things that players should do is to play carefully and safely, play with other people, and always be aware of their environment. What librarians can do is provide a safe environment for people to play, and talk to their patrons about how to play safely. Some libraries have been designated as PokeStops or Gyms, and many of them have promoted this fact and even built programs around Pokémon GO-themed events. Some libraries are setting off lures at designated days and times, providing a safe space for players to come and try their luck at finding new creatures. Our library is not designated as a PokeStop (yet!), but we’ve been using our social media to promote that lots of Pokémon can be found in our library and in our neighborhood. We’ve mostly been sharing photos, but we also started experimenting with videos and GIFs, too!

At our last Teen Summer Reading Club meeting, after we talked about the books we’ve read lately we started talking about Pokémon GO. Some of this conversation was practical, as we talked about the importance of keeping safe, of walking with other people, of being aware of our surroundings, and of exiting completely out of the program rather than just closing it when we’re done playing (because this game uses a LOT of battery power!) Some of the conversation was fun, because as various Pokémon appeared I had the kids choose where they’d like to photograph them, and since we have so much teen artwork in our Community Room now we had plenty of choices:

Squirtle in the Community RoomGastly Valentine

I have a limited amount of time to hunt Pokémon myself, although I manage to fit it in on my way to and from work and during my breaks! This weekend I had some time to go walking / Pokémon hunting, so I decided to see what I could find in Inwood Hill Park since this map on DNA Info indicated that there were plenty of Pokémon there. So I packed my bag, prepped for the trip, got to the park, and … nothing. I didn’t catch ‘em all. In fact, I didn’t catch anything! I just walked around the park, I got plenty of exercise, and in spite of the sunblock I got a few new freckles.

It turns out that there were some server issues going on, perhaps because so many people had the same idea at the same time, or perhaps because of hackers who brought the servers down (reports and theories are still coming in). And so the game either didn’t want to connect at all or it connected enough that I could see the map but not much else. Most of the pictures I took were either of me trying and failing to connect to the game …

No Connection at PokeStopWalking on Water

Or I ended up reverting back to my camera and taking perfectly lovely shots that were just … you know. Regular reality. Not the augmented kind.

Columbia C

This is what regular reality looks like. Why am I disappointed that there’s no Squirtle in this picture?

In conclusion, instead of actually catching any Pokémon, I got to do a lot of walking and thinking instead. I got to visit one of my favorite parks in New York City. I got some exercise. And while I was doing all that walking and thinking I came up with this blog post! So … THAT counts as being productive, right?

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