Categotry Archives: gps

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters ( in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

Getting Lost in the Wilderness


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I’ve always enjoyed telling people where to go.  I spent five years in one of the most rugged national parks in New Zealand’s South Island – Arthur’s Pass – employed to answer questions like “where’s the toilet?, where can I get something to eat? And where shall I go for a tramp? (US readers, that’s a hike to you and not a reference to the wildlife….)

Nicknamed by the locals “Miss Information” I would spend my days poring over topo-maps; running my fingers up and down steep valleys and passes, explaining the best ways through the wilderness.  Of course to be credible, I had to have walked the tracks and routes myself. (Best job ever!) But no matter how much advice I gave, it was still up to those that ventured out into the wilds to make sure they came back. Self-reliance and the ability to think; to find a route where others may have stumbled; these were the essential tools of the back country adventurer.

Of course, these days there’s an app for all that. Outdoor apps that “connect you with nature” are a growing phenomenon. No smartphone is complete without Google Maps. You can download all NZ Topomaps as an extension to the free app Outdoor Atlas.  MotionX GPS tracks your location while skiing, hiking, running, sailing, geocaching and more. The new NZ-made  ‘Get Home Safe’ app takes it even one step further; it tracks your position and calls for help if you’re missing in action.

It seems these days that true wilderness has been reduced to those small pockets that still don’t have cell coverage.

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

A few weeks ago the big news was that Google Street View’s Trekker camera was hitting the Abel Tasman Track, with plans to complete all nine Great Walks of New Zealand. The Trekker – a wearable backpack with a camera on top – has been specially designed to photograph places that are only accessible by foot. Great Walks our premium tracks – well managed and booked – but still remote. The back country of New Zealand will soon be viewed from the comfort of your ergonomically-designed desk chair.

Reading through the archives of Media Platypus this might seem like old news to some of you folks as they visited Canada months ago.  And I love Cal’s discussion on the subject of creating connections to places through virtual experiences. I do really; I’m not just sucking up. I also agree with quite a few of the comments below.  And  I wonder, are we not perhaps, getting to the point where we are giving too much away? In our rush to add more and more content online; to adopt these new ways of telling stories, are we stopping to ask why? Why are we not putting more into making sure more people have the real experience? How do we, as interpreters and managers of wilderness make sure people still value the “real thing” – that they are not content with just the virtual version of wilderness?

A new TV series called “Wild about New Zealand” also visited Abel Tasman this week. It has provided added value to the on-screen experience, with a series of complimentary ‘how to’ video clips such as ‘family friendly tips’. I’m sure it will inspire some families to give the great outdoors a go. But we can and should do more. To become truly “Wild about New Zealand”, you need to experience it!

Just in time for me to get to the point, Richard Louv published this education blog and a great quote that sums it up:

“For every dollar that is spent on the virtual, another dollar must be spent on the real.”
Richard Louv.

This is as true for interpretation as it is for education. Perhaps, as my good friend Robinne suggests, the time is right for a “Get Lost!” movement. Who’s with me?

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you sink your feet into it.

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you see it for yourself…