by Katherine Hall, Staff writer

In the short time since the Pokémon Go app was released (7/6), the augmented reality game has turned into a veritable viral phenomenon. According to Tech Crunch, Pokémon Go’s popularity has surpassed any other mobile game and now has more daily active users than even Twitter and players spend more time on the app than on Facebook each day. Since it is an augmented reality (AR) game, users must move in the real world to move their avatar in order to collect items from PokéStops, catch Pokémon, and train or do battle at Gyms in the game. Pokéstops and Gyms are in publicly accessible places and are often sculptures, murals on the street or public art. In addition to drawing users’ attention to art they may not have noticed in their own neighborhoods, many museums are finding themselves home to PokéStops and Gyms because they are public spaces that contain recognizable landmarks. There have been mixed reactions from museum administration and museum goers alike to the sudden increase in attendance that Pokémon Go has created.

Some museums like the Frick Collection, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art are already cleverly using pictures from the game to encourage players to visit. Some institutions and third party companies like Museum Hack have led special Pokémon catching tours that also communicate an educational message about the art that surrounds the fictional characters. Museum Hack has also published a guide on how museums can harness the popularity of the app to attract the coveted and usually elusive millennial audience. The article points out that for under ten dollars a day institutions can buy and set lures during operating hours to make their PokéStops even more appealing to potential Pokémon Go players.

Unfortunately, Pokemon Go’s initial database of landmarks did not distinguish between cultural institutions that were appropriate for gaming and those that aren’t. Locations like the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC are both discouraging users from playing while visiting as it detracts from the somber and serious message of the establishments. Even in more appropriate settings for Pokémon Go gameplay, some regular visitors are dismayed by the new crowds in old favorite places.

Pokémon Go is the first widely used implementation of AR and it has changed the way that people move through their surroundings. Many news reports have noted zombie users moving through areas staring at their phones, seemingly unaware of their surroundings and other people who are enjoying the environment. Some users are more conscientious though, and Pokémon Go’s loading page does encourage players to look at more than just their phones when playing. It’s important to note that it’s possible to play without looking at the screen constantly, especially if users are hovering around one location for a long time. By adjusting the volume, it’s possible to set the app to vibrate when a Pokémon appears nearby. This allows players to look away from their phones and enjoy their surroundings without missing out on potential Pokémon and without disturbing others.

While there are already quite a few art institutions adapting programming to capitalize on the Pokémon Go, it will be interesting to see in the following weeks how the new augmented reality app continues to impact the real art world.