Veterans vs. Pokemon Go: It's about respect

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Pokemon Go players at the Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston, Maine, in July, 2016. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
Pokemon Go players at the Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston, Maine, in July, 2016. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

Veterans vs. Pokemon Go: It's about respect

by: Mark LaFlamme | .
The Sun Journal | .
published: August 13, 2016

LEWISTON, Maine (Tribune News Service) — In Veterans Memorial Park, Adam Mills and Joe Paradis are standing eye to eye and talking things over.

Mills is a Pokemon Go player in hot pursuit of PokeStops. Paradis is a war veteran and the founder of the park.

Things could have gotten ugly: Around the country, there have been clashes between veterans groups and Pokemon Go players over the matter of gaming in memorial parks.

But not today. After only a brief conversation, Mills and Paradis had it worked out.

"He was very nice, very mature," said Paradis, a Korean War veteran and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "He seemed to understand our concerns."

He does, Mills said. He does understand.

"I have the utmost respect for veterans," said the 32-year-old Lewiston man. "We definitely don't want to see this park get messed up. It's an amazing place."

Mills, like throngs of others lately, goes to Veterans Park every day because of its ample PokeStops. It's not all fun and games, though.

"I've been wanting to get outside and get some exercise," Mills said. "This pushes me to do that."

Thanks to Pokemon Go, Mills says he has walked 187 kilometers just since July. That's something a veteran like Paradis can respect.

Although, it's not all hugs and good feelings.

While police say there have been very few reported problems at the park because of Pokemon Go fever, others insist that a place designed to memorialize fallen soldiers is no place for games.

"Pokemon is not a veteran nor does he have a family member there," said Jerry DeWitt, chairman of the Lewiston & Auburn Veterans Council. "The Veterans Memorial Park is a place for veterans and family members to remember their service to our country. Find someplace else to play your meaningless games. Honor and remember their service to our country."

Paul R. Bernard, a member of several veterans groups and commander of New Auburn's American Legion post, says throngs of Pokemon hunters in the park is about more than simple tranquility. Their presence, he insists, defiles the point of the park.

"Many World War II veterans do not appreciate a Japanese battle game to be played in the Veterans Memorial Park, which does not glorify battles or wars but honors the lives and memories of those who have served their country honorably and those who have paid the ultimate price," Bernard said.

Unlike many, Bernard has a firm grasp of how Pokemon works. Knowing how the game is played, however, doesn't mitigate his resentment of the hordes he finds in the park.

Pokemon uses a mobile device with GPS capability to locate, capture, battle and train virtual creatures called Pokemon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player.

"This type of virtual game is at the least disrespectful to the thousands of families in Central Maine that hold the Veterans Memorial Park as a place of reflection and solace," Bernard said. "This game has also attracted controversy for contributing to accidents and becoming a public nuisance at some locations."

That's true enough. Around the world, Pokemon Go players have been seriously injured or killed due to inattention. Some walk into traffic. A couple have fallen off cliffs.

In Lewiston, police say they've seen only a small number of incidents in which gamers were reported to have wandered into traffic. No serious injuries have resulted so far.

At Bates College, another hot Pokemon stop, large groups of players can be found both day and night. Users say the campus is another prolific stop for Pokemon. It draws them out. Some of the players move along as soon as they get what they're after, some remain to enjoy the ambiance of the campus.

Campus security officers said there have been no reports of trouble due to the sudden influx of gamers.

Why do the Veterans Park and parts of the Bates campus have so much to offer Pokemon Go players? That's a question for the game creators. The stops are the result of the game's maker, a subsidiary of Nintendo, picking those locations for its characters to appear on a player's smartphone or gaming device, all detected by GPS.

Mills, who goes to the park during his lunch break, said he will go out of his way to pick up litter if he finds any at the park. He and the other players he's met through Pokemon Go would quickly call out fellow players if they were misbehaving or disrespecting the site.

At Veterans Memorial Park, 28 stone monuments stand in honor of Maine men and women who have served in the military, along with a World War II era Jeep and other relics. Overlooking the Androscoggin River, the park is considered a solemn place, populated by high numbers of people only on holidays.

Should anything be done to keep it that way? Bernard thinks so. And he's got ideas on how to do it.

“Ban the use of mobile devices with GPS capability that would locate, battle and train creatures called Pokemon," Bernard suggested, "which is becoming a public nuisance and causing safety and security concerns in the Veterans Memorial Park."

Why was Paradis so relaxed about the issue Thursday while so many others were riled? He believes it's because he went out and talked to the people who were playing Pokemon Go.

He doesn't understand the game very much, he said, but at least he understands a little more about the people who play it with such zeal.

"It sounds like they're going to respect the place," Paradis said. "And that sounds good to me."

©2016 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)
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