Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pokémon ... STOP?

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I learned about two events that at first seemed unrelated but turned out to be connected.  A teenager entered my co-worker’s yard, inadvertently letting her dog out. And at Fairyland, a parent tripped on our yellow brick road while focusing on his smartphone instead of where he was going.

What do these occurrences have in common? Both the teen and the parent were playing Pokémon GO. 

If you were on a remote island last week, you may not know about a craze that's taken over America and 26 European countries: Pokémon GO, an interactive game app for smartphones, was released on July 6. It's an updated version of the original Nintendo console game that debuted in 1996. 

With Pokémon GO, your phone becomes a portal to the Pokémon world, where you can see animated Pokémon in your neighborhood or other public spaces (and also private ones). When you "capture" them, you can then take them to other designated spaces that serve as "gyms," where you can train them to fight other Pokémon for points.

Without our knowledge or approval, the game’s creators designated six Poké stops in Children’s Fairyland: Noah’s Ark, the Humpty Dumpty Wall, Anansi’s Web (our Ferris wheel), a horse in our Old West Junction, the bong tree in the Owl and the Pussycat set, and Tweedledee. A Pokémon gym is located just outside our gates, at Lakeside Park’s bandstand.

Children’s Fairyland’s Humpty Dumpty Wall was designated a Pokemon GO stop without the park’s knowledge or permission

Some people are applauding the game because it encourages players to go outside and move around their neighborhoods. But what happens when players play inside theme parks, either small ones like Fairyland or large ones like Disneyland?

The amusement park’s international association, IAAPA, released an advisory memo to the industry last week in which it expressed three main concerns. The first: the problems that can arise when players venture into “back of house” areas that are closed to the public, such as platforms, ride areas, exhibits and backstage. The second: accidents can happen when people are not paying attention to where they’re going, as we saw with our Yellow Brick Road incident.

The third and perhaps greatest concern involves people who take their smartphones on rides. Amazingly, the app designers have designated some rides—notably roller coasters—as Poké stops.  

IAAPA provides the link to Pokémon GO that allows people to report sensitive and unsafe locations on its website, so that they can be removed from the areas of play. You are required to explain your reason for opting out--for example, “people’s smartphones on fast coasters can fall and hurt someone, or be damaged beyond repair.”

At Fairyland, we’re pondering whether or not to opt out altogether. Our argument for doing so: We are proudly low-tech, and we encourage parents and caregivers to unplug and focus on interacting with their young children while they’re in our fantasy world.

I queried my friends who run large theme parks about Pokémon. Most said they plan to remove some of the nonpublic sites, but don’t want to completely discourage gamers. Locally, neither the Oakland Zoo nor the Chabot Space and Science Center has encountered any problems so far.

On the East Coast, the Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum have chosen to opt out.  Their choice is hardly surprising, as these are solemn, reflective, even sad places.

As for private homes that have been designated “gyms,” with players literally trespassing at all hours? I call that a class action suit waiting to happen.

Pokémon GO is described as an “augmented reality game.” Here at Fairyland, reality is sufficiently augmented through imagination and bubbles—not electronics. So come on by, but leave your smartphone in your pocket. Your kids will thank you, even if they’re too young to speak.

-- C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.


  1. "We are proudly low-tech" is an enchanting attitude on the status quo of social online interactions. This is precisely why I love bringing my son to Fairyland, even though we are a big data industrial internet of things family - no, especially because we are - this is why unplugging from tech and plugging into imagination and physical play brings our family so much joy and growth.

  2. I applaud your post CJ and would encourage you to opt out. Parents are already on their phones enough. The stimulation and fun of being at Fairyland is already apparent. No need for my phone for that. You'll be making a statement and an important one.