Jul 14 2016

Feds Get In On the Pokémon GO Craze

Agencies are leveraging interest in the augmented reality mobile game to engage with citizens and promote services.

Marines tweeting about how Pikachu needs to get off the firing line? Congresswomen bragging about catching Squirtle and Spearow? Stern warnings about chasing digital creatures on military bases?

Welcome to post-Pokémon Go America.

The game, a location-based augmented reality mobile app that allows players to hunt down cartoon Pokémon creatures in the real world, is a bona fide sensation, reaching nearly 21 million daily users in the first week after its July 6 launch. In addition to its sheer popularity, much of the buzz around the game stems from the way it’s getting players off of their couches and into the real world. A number of federal agencies have taken notice, using the game as a touchstone to connect with citizens over social media and, in some cases, even encouraging players to chase Pokémon on federal lands.

Justin Herman, who manages federal-wide social media programs for the General Services Administration Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, says he’s not surprised to see agencies jump on the new trend.

“If two weeks ago you would have said that advancements in connecting digitally with citizens would have come to us through Pokémon, I wouldn’t have predicted that,” Herman acknowledges. “But that’s the whole point. We have to be nimble. We have to be responsive. Agencies aren’t going to create a six-month plan on how to capitalize on a mobile app. Even if something is being used for a short amount of time, agencies can quickly react and figure out how to capitalize on that, and create that bridge with citizens.”

Indeed, several agencies have been rapid and proactive in their response. The National Park Service, in particular, has welcomed Pokémon aficionados (called “trainers”) with open arms.

“We’d like to welcome all you trainers to your national parks, where you might find more than just a new companion,” says Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, in a Facebook video that has more than 700,000 views. “It’s exciting to explore new places, and the National Park Service has some great ones in store for you.”

The agency is even organizing a ranger-led “Catch the Mall Pokémon Hunt” (a pun on Pokémon’s “Gotta Catch ’Em All!” slogan) at the National Mall, and in the meantime is encouraging players to chat with rangers about the game. The National Mall’s Facebook page even gives players tips on which creatures have been spotted roaming near the Washington Monument.

Others are simply joining in the fun, without necessarily encouraging Pokémon players to hunt for creatures in their vicinity. The U.S. Marines tweeted a picture of Pikachu — a docile yellow creature — standing between Marines and their targets on a firing range with the caption: “Get off the firing line, Pikachu! That's a safety violation!” The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden tweeted out an image of a 1963 Wayne Thiebaud oil painting that vaguely resembles a box of Pokéballs (the tools that trainers use to catch creatures). Judy Chu, a Democratic Congresswoman from California, even invoked Pokémon while arguing for gun legislation, tweeting that she’d found Pikachu and Squirtle (a blue turtlelike character), but couldn’t find any colleagues from across the aisle who would support a particular law.

But it’s not all fun and games. The National Park Service has had to remind people to be respectful in sacred spots, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And the Joint Base Lewis–McChord military installation took to its Facebook page to warn players not to chase Pokémon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings or homes on the base. 

The base’s social media team also reminded players to be careful in parking lots and while crossing roads, writing: “That Pokémon isn’t going anywhere fast.”

YouTube\Official Pokemon Channel