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Guest Commentary: Are there any ‘off limits’ sites for Pokémon Go?

September 14, 2016
By A. James Rudin , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Last July the Pokmon Go electronic game was introduced and it has quickly become a phenomenon attracting millions of players throughout the world.

The game features animal-like digital creatures that "appear" in actual locations and are visible on a person's smartphone. Thanks to the technical skill of the game's creators, Pokmon Go's imaginative images, some of them monsters, can be found in a growing number of places including beaches, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, hospitals, farm fields, city streets, schools, houses of worship and I even saw a game aficionado in a shopping mall men's room.

The object of Pokmon Go requires players to be physically present at one of those sites who then make electronic attempts to capture the targeted image on a smartphone. It is a digital variation of the beloved childhood game of "hide and seek."

Since its debut several months ago, Pokmon Go's fanciful creatures have already surfaced at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan ("Ground Zero") and the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where President John F. Kennedy and many of America's military dead are buried, including my father, a U.S. Army officer, and my mother. In addition, the game has also appeared at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC.

The game's explosive growth raises a serious ethical question that cuts across all national and political boundaries. Are there any "off limits" sites on the globe where Pokmon Go electronic images and players should not be allowed? Some people think the answer is "yes."

Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz Memorial, believes Pokmon Go's presence at the infamous death camp is "absolutely inappropriate." He wrote: "Allowing such games to be active on the site of Auschwitz Memorial is disrespectful to the memory of the victims of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp on many levels."

Sawicki asked the Pokmon Go creators "not to allow the site of Auschwitz Memorial and other similar sites to be included in the game."

Andrew Hollinger, a spokesperson for the USHMM, echoed Sawicki and said the museum site in our nation's capital should be omitted from the game. He declared: "Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls far outside of our educational and memorial mission."

I agree.

Pokmon Go images that attract players to horrific places such as "Ground Zero" and Auschwitz assault the collective sacred memories of our civilization. The game trivializes the mass murders that took on Sept. 11, 2001 and during the Holocaust.

William Shakespeare may be correct that "Life's a stage," but the precious painful memories of human lives lost, and the hallowed sites where radical evil took place should surely not become convenient "stages" for a clever electronic game.

I have my own specific personal message for Pokmon Go devotees: "Play your trivial mindless game somewhere else, but not on my parents' grave."

Rabbi Rudin is the AJC's Senior Interreligious Adviser and the author of the recently published "Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Stephen S. Wise" (Texas Tech University Press). His website is



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