As the Pokémon Go craze was taking hold of communities and blowing up in the press last week, Small Museum Committee member, Kristen Laise of Belle Grove Plantation received a most helpful email from her colleagues at the National Trust for Historic Preservation—Kelly Schindler, Associate Manager for Historic Sites Operations & Administration, Anne Nelson, Associate General Counsel, and Sarah Heffern, Associate Director of Social Media Strategy. They have graciously given their permission to share it with the
AASLH Small Museum Blog with a few minor edits, but do remember that this is general guidance and you should consult your own counsel and advisers for specific guidance related to your site:
In the past few weeks, you may have suddenly noticed an increase in the number of people visiting your site who appear glued to their phones. But, the majority are doing something different from usual cell-obsessed behaviors—they’re playing Pokémon Go, capturing little creatures visible only on their phones. The good news about this game is that it’s driving people to historic places in droves! The (maybe) bad news is that they may be interacting with your site in very different ways than a typical visitor.
Below are a few helpful articles, examples from other sites/museums, and tips to help you engage with the folks it might bring to your site.
What is Pokémon Go, anyway?
It’s a phone-based game that uses GPS and augmented reality to place Pokémon, little animated critters, in front of players to catch. In addition, there are designated, fictional Pokéstops where users can pick up extra objects to help in the capturing the critters in the game. It’s these points where historic places come into play, as the database used to create them is focused around historic places/monuments and public art. At higher levels, the game also allows the animated Pokémon to “battle” each other at designated “gyms” (all on the application and part of the game, of course), many of which are also designated at historic places.
Here are a couple of general explainers:
- Pokémon Go, explained (Vox)
- A Gen-X User Guide to Pokémon Go (CityLab)
And a couple that look at it from a museum-centric point of view:
- Is There a Place for Pokémon Go in History Museums? (AASLH)
- Pokémon GO In Museums: Gotta Visit ’Em All (Museum Hack)
- Pokémon just did museums a huge favor (maybe) (Virginia Association of Museums)
- Pokémon Go, Virtual Reality, and Museums (#MuseDigi)
Should we engage with people playing at our site?
YES! While Pokémon Go includes historic places, the information it provides is seriously limited. (In most cases, only the name of the location is provided.) So, staff can certainly approach players to tell them about what they’re seeing. The National Mall is leading Pokémon-focused tours to connect gamers with the history of our national monuments. Other sites are encouraging visitors to share on social media if they’ve seen Pokémon on site, presumably in the hopes of luring in even more visitors. If you’re asking people to share on social (or are sharing on your site – or personal – accounts), please remember to use the #TrustSites hashtag!
Looking for more ideas? Brian Failing of the AASLH Emerging History Professionals Committee and The Museum Playbook have great posts with tips for building Pokémon Go engagement.
What if people are playing where (or when) we don’t want them to?
Many of our sites feature cemeteries, areas that recognize enslavement, or other spots where game playing of any kind is just not appropriate. The Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have dealt with this very publicly, and, as a result, players are becoming more aware that they may be asked to avoid certain spots. You may want to put up a sign in your visitors’ center outlining places to avoid, and staff should gently remind folks if they find them playing in these spots, just as they would if they noted any other inappropriate behavior.
In addition, some sites have specific hours of operation and require entrance tickets, and there have been some news stories about overzealous players trespassing at places that are not open. River Farm in Alexandria, VA did a nice job of heading this off by sharing a photo of their Pokéstop, with a reminder of their hours of operation, to discourage trespassing.
- Players may need to be reminded to not only respect sensitive areas of a historic site, but also other visitors to the site.
- Cellphone and photography usage rules are also different from site to site, but you may want to remind players that these rules apply to all visitors, including those using their phone cameras while playing Pokémon.
- Guides may want to warn/remind players who are walking around the site that they should stay alert and pay attention to where they are walking since many sites and grounds include steps, porches, trenches, ditches, ponds, and other trip & fall options.
- Follow your site’s standard procedures if an injury or incident occurs, including completing an incident report and notifying insurance carriers, as applicable.