The Curious Case of Pokémon Go: Can Augmented Reality Get Along with Actual Reality?

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Augmented reality is fun but it doesn’t exactly play well with those not participating in the augmentation. This has been brought to light with the recent launch of Pokémon Go, which swept the world. The mobile AR game sees players catch Pokémon all over the place—including some areas which others would prefer they didn’t.

Some examples? Cemeteries, hospitals, and museums. Actual reality—in particular those not playing the game—feels disrespected by AR, which trivializes sensitive things. (Oh, this is someone’s grave? Who cares, there’s a Drowzee standing on it!)

It’s not that Pokémon trainers are trying to be offensive. They’re simply playing the game.

Does that mean the game’s maker, Niantic, is being insensitive? Not quite—at least not intentionally. The creators behind Pokémon Go say they are actively working toward removing real-world locations that want to opt-out from the craze and exist in peace and quiet.

“When something is really popular, we have to figure out the most respectful way to deal with it and make sure that everyone is playing safely and doing things in a respectful manor,” J.C. Smith, the Pokemon Company’s consumer marketing director, told the Canadian Press this week.

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The GPS-based game gives virtual rewards to players who come within range of “Pokéstops,” which can be anything from an electrical box on a side street to a heritage sign in a cemetery—or, for a real-life example, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“We’re looking at features in the game and how to fine-tune them so that it’s appealing to the fans but also respectful of the private institutions that are affected by it,” Smith said.

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