Pokémon Go vs History – a compromise between reverence and remembrance

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Haydn

Pokémon Go, as it turns out, is pretty huge. I don’t need to tell you quite how huge because the levels of which Pokémon Go is huge serve as the basis for every opening paragraph ever written on the subject. However, in an attempt to offer you a new barometer for how popular it is, let’s just say that even my parents have heard of it, and they heard about it on the news. The actual news. You know, the one on TV.

I had pretty low expectations for what the app would ultimately be, but the fact that it’s a hit just seemed inevitable. All I really wanted was to see a Scyther clipping through oblivious children in Tesco, or perhaps an Onyx taking a shit on the office doorstep of my local MP.

Of course, the reality is much less graphic, but certainly about as buggy as anticipated. To top it all, I’ve had no success getting the AR to work and, as a resident of Bumfuck Nowhere, the lack of solid data coverage is a real problem. I’ve started spending a worrying amount of time hanging around local points of interest waiting for Pokéstops to load, rebooting the app, giving up, and leaving with Pokéblue-balls.

On the other hand, I’ve walked well over 8km a day since the app was released, and I’ve learnt more about my home town in past few days than since I first moved here. I’ll admit that much of my recently acquired knowledge is particularly niche, and certainly not very exciting, but all of a sudden I am privy to odd little details I never knew existed. There are certainly a lot more churches tucked away around the town than I had ever realised, and I even found a secret clock in an alleyway. I feel like my life is the Da Vinci Code,  but written by someone more competent than Dan Brown. Like a toddler, or a UKIP voter.

Despite its flaws, which are numerous, I’ve really fallen head over heels for Pokémon Go. The last year or so has been a peculiar time for me, and getting out and walking was always a good way to keep from drowning in my own brain soup. But, after a particularly bad slump, I stopped going on walks and that quickly led to a vicious cycle of depression. Pokémon Go has given me the impetuous to go on meandering, erratic walks that don’t follow any rhyme or reason, but have a purpose: to be the very best, like no one ever was.

But of course, it’s not all artisanal bread and olives, and as expected, we’ve been treated to the some very on-brand scaremongering, with Pokémon Go being cited in seemingly every mugging, venomous snake encounter, and unfortunate moment of social unrest. Based on selection bias alone, you’d think that Pokémon Go was responsible for all the world’s ills over the last few weeks. I’m surprised the military coup in Turkey wasn’t blamed on some overzealous tank drivers tracking a wild Dragonite.

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This well intended tweet actually provoked a response from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, asking that players kindly refrain from leaving lures as it creates more problems than it solves.

It didn’t take long for some hack from the Daily Mail to hastily squirt out a few hundred words of half-baked, non-conformist rhetoric about how Pokémon Go is “just one more excuse to gawp at your phone and ignore reality“. The author, Liz Jones, who is clearly more concerned with being snide and contrarian than writing something of worth, suggests ditching the free app and getting a rescue dog if you really want to  more exercise. I can only assume this is because if you’re going to get exercise, you have to do it her way, or not at all. Fuck you, bright-eyed future generations keen to explore the world. Fuck you and you and your newfound love of the outdoors, your sense of adventure and your vibrant community. Get a dog or stay inside like everyone else.

The real crux of the Pokémon Go issue though turned out to be far more surprising than I’d even begun to consider, and unfortunately it’s a complex one. The outrage isn’t born from scores of zombified youngsters breaking into military bases, or whatever ill-advised excursion has consumed the press, but instead it comes from the management teams at memorial sites across the world. Some notable examples are the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the Hiroshima Bomb Memorial.

The general feeling is that it’s disrespectful to play Pokémon Go at a holocaust memorial; despite being a reaction I can understand, I feel it’s an unfair one, born from a modest distrust of technology and a blind reverence for the past.

It’s easy to be oblivious to history because, by very definition, it’s not new. History isn’t trending on Twitter and, in this digital age, where apparent moments of significance are forgotten in a flash for the latest hot piece of news, history becomes irrelevant. On top of that, history is depressing. It’s full of horrors we all wish had never happened, and so its hardly surprising that people don’t actively seek it out. Pokémon Go, however, gives people an incentive. The very aim of Pokémon Go is to encourage players to explore the world and, via proxy, engage with it. These memorial sites, which serve as a sombre reminder of how quickly mankind will turn on itself, are perhaps most effective when visited with reverence, but I would argue that awareness of these atrocities is more important than the means by which we pay our respect.

Pokémon Go has a remarkable capacity of drawing hundreds of people to any given location.* To try and close these memorials off from people playing Pokémon Go is to close them off to an entire generation. Yes, perhaps not everyone there is walking around, heads bowed in sullen, mournful silence, but what does that achieve anyway?

As a society, we’ve adopted memorials as a means to enshrine the past in our collective consciousness. We must never forget the horrors of the second world war, because they do not bear repeating. I used to work with someone who didn’t know the first thing about the war, let alone the holocaust; if it takes Pokémon Go for a person like that to accidentally stumble across a site of historical significance, then so be it. Does it really matter how people engage with history, so long as they actually do it?

It may be an unconventional way to explore the world or learn some history, but time moves forward and we move with it. Looking at Pokémon Go as a symptom of a switched-off generation is to look at it all wrong. Whether we like it or not, technology is ever evolving and in 20-years we’ll all look back at this and laugh at how primitive it is. Don’t fear it, don’t fight it, and don’t decry it. Preserve the memory of the past, but don’t put up a barrier.

*Aspiring super villains and despots take note

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