Pokémon Go – Nonprofits Using High Tech Alternative To Scavenger Hunts

October 4, 2016       Andy Segedin and Mark Hrywna      

First you pretended that it didn’t exist. Your IT intern bumped into the door while playing it on her phone and you turned away. Then your rage grew to the heat of a thousand Charmanders as your clients and visitors began using it.
You tried to bargain your way out – “Maybe only during lunch,” you thought. It was no use. The museum down the street held a huge event around it. You wept into the Jigglypuff throw pillow that found its way into the break room. It’s time to accept it: Organizations across the country are catching all the attention with Pokémon Go.
The mobile app only launched in July but already sped through the stages of massive popularity to overexposure and backlash. Nonprofits were quick to jump on the bandwagon, ranging from museums and food banks to churches.
Many branches of the New York Public Library have created “Lure” events, activating a feature that “attracts” Pokémon to the area, bringing new patrons to the library. Other branches are using Pokémon as a jumping off point for other activities, according to a spokeswoman. The 53rd Street library organized a Pokémon-related scavenger hunt throughout the building to teach teens how to navigate the space. The Westchester Square branch put Pokémon cutouts in their Young Adult literature to encourage kids to catch not only Pokémon but new reading material as well.
Some museums have had to remind users to avoid stumbling into their collections while playing the game. The National Holocaust Museum Memorial in Washington, D.C., has asked that users not play the game there and is working to be removed from the game. Other nonprofits might be asking whether Pokémon Go is just the latest shiny new toy to devote resources toward.
The augmented reality game in which players try to catch Pokémon via a mobile app that makes them appear through their smartphone cameras already rivals Twitter in number of active daily users. The question is whether Pokémon Go becomes the next Twitter or Facebook or if it will flame out, only to go the way of QR codes and other concepts that were eventually relegated to merely “shiny new toy” status?
“Augmented reality is about adding a layer of fantasy, possibility, and discovery to the world we see around us,” said Steph Routh, content manager at Portland, Ore.-based NTEN. Whether nonprofits should be chasing Pokémon Go users is an open question, she said. “Nonprofits should definitely be paying attention,” she said. “The nonprofit sector exists to further social change; to manifest a reality that does not yet exist. A nonprofit’s role is about changing the reality we experience and helping envision and create a more just reality,” she said.
The question nonprofit managers can ask themselves, she said, “is, how can we as a change agent use the concept of augmented reality to further our mission? Perhaps the mission is about getting more people experiencing a neighborhood and making it feel safer. Maybe it is about connecting students with STEM programs. What part of our current reality is your mission trying to shift, and how can augmented reality help your dreams feel more possible? That is a lesson of Pokémon Go worth learning,” she said.
Pokémon Go represents the continued growth of “serious games” with real-world objectives, Elizabeth Merritt wrote in a blog post for the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). “Scavenger hunts in and around museums are nothing new nor are apps that introduce virtual elements into galleries even without permission,” said Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, an AAM initiative. “But the growth of open data sets and social media facilitate taking such use to scale,” she said, noting estimates from 9.5 million to 21 million active users of Pokémon Go per day in the United States.
Increased attendance has been reported at a number of museums, including the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Fla., according to Merritt. There are still emerging concerns for museums, she said, as they “struggle to control, adapt to or partner with people who make us part of their digital worlds.”
Stephanie Bagley, chief operating officer for the mobile app Charity Miles, was out walking her dogs in Brooklyn when she noticed that everyone in the park around her was playing Pokémon Go two days after the game launched. The following Monday, her teammate noticed that there had been a spike in activity over the weekend. Members had already connected the dots – playing Pokémon Go while using Charity Miles.
Charity Miles allows members to donate to one of 40 different charities by walking, running or cycling. Members are not asked to donate money, Bagley said. Instead, partners including Johnson & Johnson, CVS and Kenneth Cole sponsor participants by paying for advertising on the app.
Staff wrote a blog post encouraging users to keep Charity Miles open and take and upload screenshots while playing Pokémon Go. The post went viral in news outlets in the U.S. and abroad, such as in France, the United Kingdom and Malaysia.
“We observed that this would be way more than a flash in the pan trend from the start,” Bagley said. “People were not only playing, but walking around playing.” He said it is too early to determine how the Poké-craze would impact the number of sponsoring partners or dollars coming in. Membership numbers have shown promise, tripling to 380,000 monthly active users in the month following Pokémon Go’s launch. NPT