Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History

Pokémon Go is everywhere.  Maybe the craze hasn’t hit you yet, or maybe you haven’t seen a stampede like this one:

But if you’re a social studies teacher and you’re not playing yet, maybe you should — not only is it a great reason to get outside and interact with other people, but it’s a great way to interact with local history.

This is because the “Pokéstops” where you can find the little pocket monsters are designated by GPS, and are quite often historical markers.  Niantic Labs, the maker of the game, is a spinoff of Google’s, and the game uses data from a similar earlier game, called Ingress using The Historical Marker Database.  This database records “historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques.”  According to the Associated Press:

How such markers became the backbone of the wildly popular video game that launched this month is a story that goes back at least five years, when tech giant Google signed a licensing agreement to use The Historical Marker Database , a volunteer-run website that has tracked the geographic coordinates of more than 80,000 historical markers around the world, most of them in the United States.

And when you’ve finished catching Pokémons and discussing the local markers of historical places and events, you can discuss the game’s inherent bias in inputs: as Jack Thompson, Pokémon Go player notes, “Crowdsourcing is only as representative as the crowd doing the sourcing.” Because the database was created by a certain subgroup of people, but is now being used for a more universal game, there are distinct biases built-in that make the playing field uneven.

And stay out of minefields while playing.

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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