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Museums are mad about Pokémon Go – literally

14 July 2016

In the past few days, museums around the globe have been baffled by a curious spike in visitor numbers, yet many of the new arrivals at institutions including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, LACMA and Art Institute of Chicago, seem only passingly interested in the world-class exhibits. Instead, the hordes mill around as if in a daze, arms outstretched as they stare blindly into their phones.

Zombie apocalypse? Not this time. The phenomenon has actually been sparked by the launch of ‘Pokémon Go’, a new app that allows people with nothing better to do to ‘hunt’ for characters from the 1990s Japanese video game franchise. The cute fictional animals appear in the real-time camera view of users’ smartphones as they walk around, and it seems many of the top hunting grounds or ‘Pokéstops’ are located in public museums.

Many museums have taken to the fun and games with enthusiasm, happily retweeting Pokémon Go players’ social media missives. Indeed, as reported in the Evening Standard, one British Museum employee tweeted his colleagues asking how the venerable institution could ‘get in’ on some Poké action. It is, if nothing else, a rather unorthodox way of ramping up the footfall for the annual report.

Alas, the phenomenon hasn’t been quite so popular elsewhere. The app’s points of interest are drawn with an apparent lack of discrimination from the Historical Marker Database, which groups together publicly accessible monuments and exhibits.

This has led to the rather unfortunate eventuality of Pokémon fans piling into venues like Washington’s Holocaust Museum and the Arlington National Cemetery, both of which have since been forced to request that visitors refrain from their ‘extremely inappropriate’ pursuit. In short: what a Poké balls-up.

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