On July 6, the world found its newest obsession. It’s no longer Twitter, Facebook or even Snapchat. The current fixation is chasing and catching characters with Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality mobile game by Niantic.
The free app has been downloaded by more than 40 million people worldwide since its release, so you’ve probably seen players roaming neighborhoods, parks, schools, churches and even synagogues in search of the virtual characters.
While the game has been amazingly popular, it has also attracted considerable controversy. Players have caused car and pedestrian accidents and have become public nuisances in many places.
Detroit’s Rabbi Jason Miller, an entrepreneur, social media expert and JN technology columnist, sees very specific pros and cons to the game.
“It can be dangerous if people are looking at their screens while they’re walking in traffic,” Miller said. “Also, people are playing this game in places they certainly shouldn’t be playing — places like Auschwitz or the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“On the other hand, one of the positive aspects is that it gets people to new places. So, for instance, if there is a Pokémon character in a synagogue, it might get people to go to that synagogue. I have a colleague who told me there is a Pokémon character at her synagogue. And she asked, ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing for our synagogue?’ My response was it’s a good thing because if some kid, whether Jewish or not, comes into your synagogue looking for a Pokémon, and you get to meet him and talk with him and even get the chance to educate him, then that’s a good thing.”
Pokémon Go’s augmented reality uses your phone’s GPS to detect where you are in the game and makes Pokémon characters appear around you (on your phone screen). So you “gotta catch ’em all!” As you travel, different types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are. Players rack up points with each capture (some are more scarce and more vaulable) and move to higher levels.
Jacki Honig, Teen Network Weaver at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, is an avid Pokémon Go player. She downloaded the game and has been playing since the day it launched. She was a Pokémon fan when she was a child, but this got her back into it.
“I played with a friend in Royal Oak and we ran into others playing, too,” said Honig, who would like to play more, but says she’s pretty busy.
“I actually don’t have time to go out and actively play on my own time; but, for example, I will play when I go grocery shopping. I’ll put my phone in my cart and catch Pokémon that way,” said Honig, 26. She is currently on Level 7, which she says is not particularly high, but she plans to keep on capturing Pokémon.
Nancy Heinrich, CEO of Jewish Senior Life, which has two campuses with senior apartments, has had to deal with Pokémon Go because of security risks.
“Regarding Pokémon Go, we weighed in on the issue with security and we weighed in on our concerns for the safety of our residents,” Heinrich said. “We learned through our research that we could opt out of the game. And we tried to opt ourselves and our own buildings out, but we had difficulty doing that.”
Heinrich agrees the negatives outweigh the positives of the game on their campuses.
“We have older adults who walk on our campuses as well as children walking on campus. So distracted driving is a problem. Bringing people into our buildings [looking for Pokémon] is a security issue. It just doesn’t make sense to have people on our campus who don’t have a reason to be there otherwise.”
Another person who has dealt heavily with the game is Gary Sikorski, director of community-wide security for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) in Bloomfield Township.
“Our JFMD campus security manager worked with the agencies [in the Federation building] and the consensus was that unlike other businesses using it as a marketing tool or to increase traffic, we felt we did not want the players to come onto the campus,” Sikorski said. “It has presented some challenges and safety concerns, from the standpoint of distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians. We’ve had some near accidents on the campus. We are working to remove those campus sites from the game.”
Sikorski has consulted with a number of area synagogues having the same issues.
“We’ve seen an increase of unwanted visitors on our private property,” said Morris Collins, head of security at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. “We have marked our property with signage asking those playing the game to please respect our property by taking their game play elsewhere.”
Sikorski is also working with the New York-based Secure Community Alert Network (SCAN), basically a Jewish Homeland security, as well as the Detroit and Southeastern Michigan Information and Intelligence Center (DSEMIIC). All have put out many recommendations for dealing with the game.
And in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Defense Forces has banned Pokémon Go from its bases because of security concerns.
Still, Sikorski said, “At the same time, I’m hearing some very positive things from members of the community and from a family standpoint. We would rather have kids engaged in this than other bad things they could get into, but we’re just promoting our standard security protocol.”
Sikorski says many synagogues are actually embracing it and using it to encourage people to come onto their property and into their facilities, so there are different responses to this game all across the board.
Pokémon Go does encourage people to go outside and explore places they would never go otherwise as well as get exercise while having fun. It has also helped catch suspected criminals, which happened in Milford in mid-July. The Milford police department was a hotspot for Pokémon, and the man, who failed to appear in court for a misdemeanor breaking and entering charge, didn’t even realize where he was headed when following his GPS looking for Pokémon. Officers looked out the window, recognized him and arrested the man.
Whether it’s catching criminals, causing people to trespass or influencing players to exercise, Pokémon Go has gotten the world obsessed in less than a month.
So get out there and explore new places, meet new people and be safe because you “gotta catch ’em all!” *
By Danny Schwartz | JN Intern