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Published on June 19th, 2017 | by Ido Kenan

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Pokemon Go & the Holocaust 🐭 Turning Casual Gaming into an Educational Experience

[ This Post in Hebrew – פוסט זה בעברית ]

Ashlynd Howell hacked her way through a Pokemon shopping spree on the Amazon App, purchasing 13 items totalling $250. To achieve this, Howell applied a simple yet bold technique usually featured in cyberaction thrillers – she pressed the phone’s sleeping owner’s finger to the fingerprint reader, unlocked it and made the purchases. But upon waking up, Bethany Howell couldn’t really be angry with her 6 year old – “She is really proud of herself,” the hacked mother told The Wall Street Journal. Pokemon had taught her daughter how to use the Amazon App and the fingerprint lock, and, more importantly, that fingerprints are not a safe way to manage and protect one’s identity. But what can Pokemon Go, the location based, augmented reality cellphone video game, teach kids, and how can it be utilized as a teaching aid?

Pokemon Go was all the rage when it was launched mid-2016, and not just among children, seeing people in countries where it wasn’t officially released download an unofficial version to play it anyway. Hacking skills – check.

Pokemon Go’s main goal is to collect Pokemon – Pocket Monsters – which are scattered around on an augmented layer placed on top of the players’ real world surroundings, thus forcing them to leave the computer, rise from their seat and get out and start searching in order to play, rather than doing so sitting or lying down. The news was flooded with reports of Pokemon hunters trespassing on private backyards, catching and driving, cracking their skulls bumping into things and stampeding through Central Park. So the physical ed implications are self evident, not to mention survival skills, albeit of the urban and legal kind.

The game doesn’t simply send players to randomly roam the streets, but guides them to specific locations by turning them into PokéStops, where players can get in-game items, including Pokeballs in which they catch the Pokemon, and equipping the stops with Lure Modules, which attract wild Pokemon; and into Gyms, over whose leadership players battle. Teachers can mobilize students to historical landmarks and public libraries by seeding them with lures, or drop them next to important works of art during a museum field trip, for example.

Some Educational Content is Already Built-In

Locations of Pokestops and Gyms are based on portal locations in Ingress, the game Niantic created before making Pokemon Go. Niantic founder and CEO, John Hanke, told Mashable the initial list of portal locations his company put together was made up of “[t]hings that were public artwork, that were historical sites, that were buildings with some unique architectural history or characteristic, or a unique local businesses.” Many of them were placed at historical markers, using information crowdsourced by volunteers through the The Historical Marker Database, its founder and publisher, J.J. Prats, told the AP.

One of those sites is a plaque commemorating an Abraham Lincoln speech at the railroad hall in 1860. Someone dropped a lure module next to it, and a short while later, 15-year-old Pokemon Go player Jaiden Cruz was indeed lured. “Before I was just going from Point A to Point B, but now I’m learning things,” he told AP as he walked by the plaque. Prats of The Historical Marker Database claimed that his website’s views had quadrupled in less than a month following the game’s launch, which may be attributed to gamers searching for stops.

So Pokémon Goers with an eye on the prize could have, and probably did, inadvertently hunt at and around Washington DC’s Holocaust Museum, Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial, Japan’s Hiroshima Memorial, and NYC’s 9/11 memorial Freedom Tower. Labeling such players as numb, insensitive or disrespectful, and asking Niantic to exclude the monuments from the game, like the Holocaust Museum said it would try to do, is an understandable, old-fashioned, knee-jerk reaction blind to the opportunity at hand: arousing the mindless drove’s curiosity and turning the incidental visits into a learning experience.

Pokemon Go 📸 David Grandmougin

Hunt books, not monsters, is the idea behind “Chasseurs de livres” (French for “Book hunters,”) a Pokemon Go inspired Facebook-and-physical-world-based book hunting game. “While I was arranging my library, I realized I didn’t have enough space for all my books. Having played Pokémon Go with my kids, I had the idea of releasing the books into nature,” Aveline Gregoire, a Belgian primary school headmaster who conceived of the game, told Reuters. Players search for books based on hints and photos posted to the Facebook group by the people who hid them. Once players are done reading a book, they release it back into the wild. The group attracted 40,000 users within a few weeks, and Gregoire said she was contemplating turning the game into an app.

Pocket Monster Taxonomy

The hundreds of Pokemon species are divided into 18 types, of which a Pokemon species may have one or two. Accordingly, they are not randomly superimposed on the real-world – but rather carefully settled, which contributes to the realness of the game experience. “We assign values based on whether there is a water body in an area — so a stream, a river, a pond — whether areas are designated as zoos or parks, or other kinds of mapping designations,” Niantic’s Hanke told Mashable. The tech-site reported that another dataset used in the game draws geographic classification information based on climate, vegetation, soil and rock type. “That gets into more [geographic information system]-type of data … and we utilise that to map Pokémon species to appropriate habitats,” explained Hanke. Imagine the unique learning experiences this could inspire in a creative biology teacher, taking his students Monster hunting while teaching them the differences between aquatic and terrestrial animals and amphibian, extinction, adaptation and evolution and so much more.

Future developments in Pokemon Go, and in the technologies it employs, will open up more and more educational opportunities and may enkindle the love of studying in even the weariest of pupils. I’m thinking an augmented reality, headset enhanced, live action reenactment mashup experience: Pokemon Go: Jurassic Park. Gotta catch them all, but if they eat the principal first, could you really blame anyone for not really trying to stand in their way?

The Pokédex of Nick Johnson, who caught all possible Pokemon in the USA

Published in Hebrew and English on MindCET‘s blog.

Main photo: Cycling Pokemons 📸 Jill Carlson (cc-by)


About the Author

Ido Kenan is founder of Room 404, a longtime Digital Culture journalist and a raiser of two cats



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