Is there a reason all my Pokéstops are effigies of the Virgin Mary and chapels?

How geotagged photos find their way into Pokémon GO and, in other online commentary... can socialism serve as a reason not to download Pokémon GO?

Just your average Marian pokéstop...
Just your average Marian pokéstop...

I download Pokémon Go onto my iPhone because as a newspaper editor I have to be down with the kids. And much to my beginner’s glee, I have had two incursions with monsters (is that what they are?): one of them popped up from behind my toddler, the other happened to be inside the newsroom. I've probably now swiped more Pokémon balls than I will ever have swiped Tinder profiles.

Yes I do write this with a feeling of inadequacy and bemusement because at 36 I should have real places to go. I don’t, because I drive home to see how Pokémon GO works at 70mph, and I leave many monsters unchallenged along the way (but I do consider stopping for a quick joust).

And yet, the question that comes to mind is: how come all the Pokéstops in the San Gwann-Naxxar area are chapels, churches, statues of the Virgin Mary, and water features? And so I Googled…

Sam Prell, from Gamesradar, writes that Pokémon GO’s origins are traceable to its developer’s, Niantic, own genesis as a Google company. Niantic’s CEO John Hanke was one of the founders of Keyhole, the company Google bought to start Google Earth, and Niantic later spun off from Google’s parent company Alphabet in 2015.

Now that same mapping technology was was used in Niantic’s previous game, Ingress, whose portal locations are based on historical markers as well as a dataset mined from geo-tagged photos on Google. And that has since evolved into Pokémon GO.

So that means that the Santa Margerita chapel in San Gwann… was either tagged there previously by players of Ingress, or because it was a geo-tagged photo from Google (and indeed, Google Maps in Malta is submerged in photos of every single one-church-for-every-day-of-the-year on the island…)

So the fact that so many tourists take photos of Maltese churches and wayside chapels to upload it on Google, means that the power of Lord will be compelling most of my movements on Pokémon GO.

Reality and socialism fight back

There may be two major stumbling blocks stopping all the Pokémon GO fun that it is to be had… one of them is reality, but Fusion has the story right here:


The other is socialism, as essayist Sam Kriss writes in socialist magazine Jacobin, who insists that Pokémon GO “should be resisted” because its infantalisation of adults is also a coercive act to ‘obey’.

“Real human bodies are tamed and directed by dangling virtual lures: businesses can buy in-game items that will tempt customers into their establishments; the state could probably quell an uprising by scattering hundreds of rare Pokémon away from the central square. If they wanted to, the game’s creators could send people leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks, running into forest fires.”

The counter-argument came from free-market apologists (where else?), whose associate editor Robby Soave finds it easy to pin down "fun-hating Jacobin".

“[Kriss] is wrong to assert that PokemonGo necessarily replaces unstructured playtime with obedience and drudgery… for a lot of kids [they] aren’t going to simply go through the motions of PokemonGo for ever and ever. The app will lead them to explore new places, meet new people, and come up with new games. They won’t just stare at their phones for eternity.”

More in Technology

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition