Image (C) Royal Air Force Museum in London

Museums exploit Pokémon craze

Nicola Sullivan, 19.07.2016
V&A says the Pokémon Go game could influence wayfinding
If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go then you have been living under a rock, which by now has probably already been made into a Pokéstop where the little pocket monsters are beginning to gather.

At the time of writing Pokémon Go was available in 27 different countries, and according to an article by the BBC, attracted 15.3 million tweets in its first week - compare that to 11.7 million for Brexit in the first week after the referendum.

The main aim of Pokémon Go, which can be downloaded onto smartphones and tablets, is to catch monsters roaming outside near sites of interests, water features and public places such as museums.

The more monsters a player gets the higher the level they reach and they can then start battling other players using the Pokémon they have collected. These battles can only take place in a so-called Gyms (public spaces).

Many museums have been quick to jump on the Pokémon Go bandwagon and have discovered a number of Pokéstops across their buildings and collections.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London has 11 such stops spread around physical locations and museum objects, creating a loose trail around the site.

“We’ve been interested to see how the mapping and geolocation aspects of the game work as a smartphone app making use of GPS, as we have an interest in this technology while looking at potential wayfinding options within the V&A buildings,” writes Richard Palmer, who works for the museum’s digital media team, in a recent blog post.
But catching Pokémon in the V&A is not without its challenges and players may find that GPS tracking does not work effectively in the bowels of the building. There is also some confusion about how the spaces in the V&A are treated by Pokémon Go.
“We are interested to discover why the museum does not appear as a Gym (ie a public space) but instead has multiple Pokéstops,” he writes.
“The mapping data used does not appear to know there is a pond in the middle of the V&A’s garden, so we don’t see any water Pokémon, which cluster around water features.”

The V&A is also planning to test whether Lure Modules, which increase the rate at which Pokémon spawn around certain locations, can attract more visitors into the museum.

The British Museum has identified a number of stops, which are linked to objects in its collection. It has publicised the stops on its website and via its Twitter feed.

"Pokémon Go is a new and exciting cultural phenomenon. It's very early days, but we can already see people enjoying the game in the museum. As the game evolves, we look forward to finding out what it means for how visitors engage with our collection," said a spokeswoman at the British Museum.

Also in the grip of the Pokémon craze is London's Royal Air Force Museum, which has six Pokéstops and a Gym by the aircraft located in its car park

“My kids are gamers and they popped in to the museum last week and were excited about the huge number of Pokémon characters on site. Since then we have noticed a number of visitors playing the game here," says Kevin Carter, the head of digital experience at the museum.

Meanwhile, the State Historical Society of North Dakota (US), which has 132 Pokéstops and two Gyms, has seen an increase in visitors coming into the building to recharge their phones, access wifi and visit the gift shop.

"We have not done much to cater specifically to this audience, but we are looking at adding some power strips to both provide a service and help control where Pokémon players congregate in our building," says Danielle Stuckle, the society's educational programmes and outreach coordinator.

The state agency that manages the institution's paleontology collection is hosting an event to shed light on the fossils that some of the characters in earlier Pokémon games are based on. An artist will be on hand to help children to design their own fossil-inspired Pokémon.

While there are many cultural institutions that are keen to attract Pokémon traffic, not all museums feel that it is appropriate for them to be included in the game’s location finder.

Notably, the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland have both taken steps to ensure their locations are excluded from the Pokémon Go game.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has banned people playing the game on site and said “it’s disrespectful on many levels”.


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Zara Matthews
Market Town Museums Manager, Leicestershire County Council
25.07.2016, 16:05
Melton Carnegie Museum is a Gym and we have already seen an increase in footfall as a result, particularly from young people. It's been a great morale boost for staff too ("we're a landmark"). I wonder if the effects will last and whether any of the people coming in to due to the game will actually realise where they are, engage with the collections/displays and maybe even come back. I will be interested to find out how other museums are responding and turning these incidental visits into meaningful experiences and repeat footfall beyond the summer of '16.