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Pokémon Go in the Holocaust Museum or Ground Zero: Nintendo has no fix yet

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Our new (virtual) reality: the looming threat of Pikachus.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

As Pokémon Go continues to break download records and hearts as players all over the country try to catch 'em all, one of the most fascinating things to come out of the phenomenon has been an ever-growing list of bizarre — and sometimes inappropriate — places where Pokémon have popped up.

There’s plenty fun to be had with the game’s locations, to be sure. Reports of Pokémon lurking in offices, nightclubs, and everything in between have inspired some pretty hilarious screencaps. And when I spent an afternoon at Universal Studios the day after Pokémon Go launched, I got to watch people in line keep Zubats and Gastlys from taking over Hogwarts in real time, an event I’d never even considered possible even in my wildest adolescent dreams.

But the apparent pervasiveness of the Pokémon themselves, as well as the placement of in-game destinations like Pokémon Gyms and PokéStops — where players can train Pokémon and battle each other, or stock up on lures to bait Pokémon, respectively — has created some sticky situations. There are reports of Pokémon Gyms appearing in people’s homes or schools — or near playgrounds — where it seems awfully creepy to loiter with your phone in the air. There are also potential robbery risks, and the unfortunate realities of some (white) people being able to creep around wherever they want while others (nonwhite people) have to tread lightly.

And then there’s the problem of Pokémon taunting players to catch them in eyebrow-raising spaces.

As noted on New York magazine’s Select All blog earlier this week, Pokémon sightings at Auschwitz quickly set off alarm bells for the apparently random nature of how the game assigns Pokémon and PokéStops to certain locations. (Though as a caveat, Pokémon Go hasn’t officially launched in European markets, so the issue could still be ironed out.) Select All’s Brian Feldman writes:

That the location would appear in the game is not directly the fault of the developer, Niantic. The game uses location data gleaned from Google Maps, and Pokéstop locations are often imported from user suggestions made on a previous Niantic game, Ingress. Pokémon themselves are randomly distributed on the map: A developer didn’t say, "Let’s make sure there are some Pokémon at Auschwitz." On the other hand, it would be simple to restrict certain areas and prevent Pokémon from appearing in or around them.

There have also been accounts of Pokémon materializing at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC — where some players have reportedly seen an especially ill-advised Koffing variety that releases poisonous gas — and at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. As you might expect, many people are justifiably upset.

Andrew Hollinger, the communications director at the Holocaust Museum, patiently explained in a statement to Vox that while he and his colleagues understand the value of the game, it does not belong in their museum:

We feel playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is inappropriate. We encourage visitors to use their phones to share and engage with Museum content while here. Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls outside of our educational and memorial mission. We are looking into how the Museum can be removed from it.

As the Washington Post has pointed out, part of the problem is that Pokémon Go players are luring Pokémon to the museum to catch while they wait in line for tickets.

So what can the museum — or any other location that doesn’t want Pokémon in its corners — actually do to remove itself from the game?

I reached out to Nintendo to ask how locations are assigned and what protocols might be in place to change them if problems arise, and received this joint statement from the Pokémon Company International and game developer Niantic (which co-own Pokémon Go with Nintendo):

PokéStops and Gyms in Pokémon GO are found at publicly accessible places such as historical markers, public art installations, museums and monuments. If you want to report inappropriate locations or content, please submit a ticket on the Pokémon GO Support website at https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com/hc/en-us.

Every time I’ve clicked that link, I’ve received the following message: "Due to the incredible number of Pokémon GO downloads, some Trainers are experiencing server connectivity issues. Don’t worry, our team is on it!" And when I emailed Nintendo again specifically asking for a response to the Holocaust Museum’s desire to be "removed" from the game, I was told Nintendo currently has "no further information to share on this topic."

The game can add PokéStops, as it reportedly did for a Reddit user whose rural area lacked options. As more and more people begin to play Pokémon Go, though, adjusting or removing the locations of some gyms and PokéStops will only become a more pressing issue for Nintendo and Niantic in the weeks to come.

And I suspect that redirecting people who want — or need — to get this game out of their space by asking them to fill out a glitchy web form is like slapping a Band-Aid on a dam leak. It might work for a second, but it doesn’t actually fix anything, and the problem is likely to become much harder to solve sooner rather than later.

An earlier version of this article referred to "Zubats" as "Zoobats" and "Gastly" as "Ghastly." We regret the errors, as the incorrect names were nowhere near as fun as the real ones.