Auschwitz asks ‘Pokemon Go’ to keep monsters out of death camp

Officials at US memorial sites also scramble to ban popular game, as app’s cartoon critters pop up in least appropriate locales

A woman points her smartphone at the Brandenburg Gate as she plays the Pokemon Go mobile game in Berlin on July 13, 2016. (AFP/ dpa / Sophia Kembowski)
A woman points her smartphone at the Brandenburg Gate as she plays the Pokemon Go mobile game in Berlin on July 13, 2016. (AFP/ dpa / Sophia Kembowski)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland says it is not allowing people to play “Pokemon Go” on their smartphones during visits to the former Nazi German death camp because it is “disrespectful on many levels.”

The game uses GPS and mapping capabilities in smartphones to let players roam the real world to find “Pokestops” stocked with supplies and hunt cartoon character monsters to capture and train them for battles.

Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told The Associated Press on Wednesday that its authorities were asking game producers to exclude the site of the former Nazi German death camp from games.

Allowing such games to be active on the authentic grounds of the former death camp is “disrespectful to the memory of the victims of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp on many levels and it is absolutely inappropriate,” Sawicki said.

Sawicki added the museum had already contacted game creators and asked them “not to allow the site of Auschwitz Memorial and other similar sites to be included in the game.”

The museum at Auschwitz is not the only memorial landmark to host a game Pokespot. Since its launch last week, gamers have reported Pokestops in other controversial locations, including The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and New York’s Ground Zero memorial.

Images circulating online in recent days showed the game’s cartoon monsters at several locations inside the Washington, DC, museum, prompting administrators to seek to have the memorial removed from the mobile game, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” museum communications director Andrew Hollinger told The Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

Hollinger told the paper the museum is generally open to new technology, and encourages visitors to share their experiences of visiting the exhibits on social media. “But this game falls very much outside that,” he said.

According to online reports, there are at least four Pokestops at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, including the twin memorial pools that feature the names of those who perished in the attacks.

Officials from the New York City memorial on Wednesday had not issued a statement on the phenomenon, though many visitors had expressed anger at seeing Pokemon Go gamers at site, and called for Ground Zero to be off-limits to the smartphone game.

The free application based on a Nintendo title that debuted 20 years ago has been adapted to the mobile internet age by Niantic Labs, a company spun out of Google last year after breaking ground with Ingress, a game that merged mapping capabilities with play.

Ingress ran into similar problems when it was released in 2015.

After players were seen battling for control of Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and were met with outrage, the company removed the former Nazi camps from game locations.

“After we were made aware that a number of historical markers on the grounds of former concentration camps in Germany had been added, we determined that they did not meet the spirit of our guidelines and began the process of removing them in Germany and elsewhere in Europe,” Ninatic said in a statement at the time.

On Tuesday, Pokemon Go had been downloaded millions of times, topping rankings at official online shops for applications tailored for smartphones powered by Apple or Google-backed Android software.

According to the research firm SimilarWeb, the game was downloaded in more than five percent of Android phones in the first two days of release and had outpaced the dating app Tinder.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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