Pikachu, the vandal

by Daniel García Raso

Would you abandon him now?
Until very recently, Nintendo, one of the giants of video games, had refused flatly (quite incomprehensibly from a business point of view) to create games for smartphones and other mobile devices, or even to allow their classic games (Mario, Donkey Kong or sagas like Metroid) to be available on these platforms.

But at a meeting of senior executives, someone had to bring Tatsumi Kimishima to reason because Miitomo, the first smartphone app of the Japanese company, was released on March 17 with terrific success: in less than a month it got 4 million downloads. In less than a month since its launch on July 7, Pokémon Go surpassed platforms like Twitter in terms of user numbers. Thanks to the fetishist momentum of casual gamers, some must be gloating in Tokyo... even recovering from the ‘bump’ of Wii U, until they stated a mere 32% of stocks in Niantic, the actual company that released the app. 

Pokémon Go is not only the first game application using augmented reality to harvest a great success, but also a game that has changed the behaviour of a huge segment of society, even within heritage (it remains to be seen if it's just the fever of novelty or if it will have a long-lasting effect). A new, sadomasochistic relationship between two forms of material culture that sometimes are almost one and the same: videogames and heritage, or videogames as heritage.Leaving aside the news that direct our attention to the true nature of human stupidity (e.g. several deaths caused by falls and even shootings at Pokémon-hunters believing they were thieves have been reported, and other ‘wonderful’ examples of the digital age: even the National Police in Spain had to issue advice on how to play Pokémon Go safely [!]), those relating to unfortunate incidents in a number of museums, monuments, squares, and other honourable heritage places, have been in no way less, as if Pikachu had become a barbarian such as those who passed through the Empire after the fall of Rome (or worse: a kind of pirate graffiti artist).


In Turkey, some want to ban Pokémon Go, before mosques are filled with teams of Pokémon-hunters. Auswitch Memorial in Poland had to ask visitors not to play inside, much like the Holocaust Memorial Museum in New York. But other heritage sites, and some museums, did not miss the opportunity to ‘capture’ potential visitors, using Pokémon Go as lure and embracing the hype via their social media accounts. However, after the news of the Pokémon-hunters-caused destruction at the MorikamiMuseum in Florida broke, some regretted it. In this category are also those who saw in this phenomenon a chance to create a fun way to learn or an informative way to play: searching pokémons in archaeological sites. Will Pikachu resist in Numancia?

Pokémon Go becomes then, with an entirely bipolar approach, threat and opportunity at the same time. More visitors would go to museums if they advertised (as it happened) that they contain pokémons; and more elements of heritage can be threatened by the digital commodification of their GPS coordinates. One might wonder which creatures can be found in some sites, the morality of which is constantly being challenged, in countries like Spain, where the Valley of the Fallen or Moncloa´s Victory Arch in Madrid are both symbols of the victory of fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Will we find there a weak Meowth or a powerful Mewtwo? Will the arrival of the hunters end up destroying the heritage character that exasperates many people in those places? We'll see... In the era of the Third Industrial Revolution everything is possible, especially when pokémons can be found even in our own toilet.

Literally in Jaime's toilet

However, some theoretical questions about material culture arise: could something similar have happened in the past, such as a sudden introduction of a new form of material culture that could have threatened or altered an existing one up to completely changing its meaning? It's just a thought to keep in mind. Who knows what can happen in the future if, for example, a Charmander is found on the remains of a new hominin in Olduvai. Will we descend then from a pixel? Where is the limit between relevant and incidental? Pikachu the vandal knows and is watching you, waiting for you...

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