In a committee meeting Tuesday morning, members of the Milwaukee County Board unanimously recommended for approval a proposed ordinance that would make sure something like the Pokemon Go/Lake Park controversy of the past summer never happens again. The proposed ordinance states that in the future, developers of “virtual and location-based augmented reality games” must apply for permits to place things like PokeStops in Milwaukee County parks. Current ordinances, according to the county, don’t address games like Pokemon Go, but are “somewhat analogous to the [Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture’s] geocaching procedures.” The County Board will vote on the proposal at a December 15 meeting.
The new ordinance reads:
Virtual and location-based augmented reality games are not permitted in Milwaukee County Parks except in those areas designated with a permit for such use by the Director of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture. Permits shall be required before any company may introduce a location-based augmented reality game into the Parks, effective January 1, 2017. The permitting application process is further described on DPRC’s website for companies that create and promote such games. That process shall include an internal review by the DPRC to determine the appropriateness of the application based on site selection, protection of rare flora and fauna, personal safety, and the intensity of game activities on park lands. Game activity shall only occur during standard park hours, unless otherwise authorized by the DPRC Director, who has the authority to designate special events and activities within the Parks outside of the standard operational hours.
Introduced by Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, the proposed ordinance was described as a way to “strike a balance” between the rights of players of virtual games, and the rights of neighbors who may live next to virtual hotspots. Wasserman described the Pokemon Go phenomenon as an “experiment on our population,” and a “worldwide problem, a worldwide dilemma.” Parks director John Dargle stressed that the proposed ordinance was “not an attempt to stop electronic gaming,” but simply a tool to allow parks to deal with possible influxes of crowds similar to the Lake Park crowds over the summer. A dollar figure on the permits was not determined.
A Poke-controversy was touched off this past summer when it was revealed that Milwaukee County Parks had written a letter to the developer of Pokemon Go, Niantic, Inc., asking for the removal of PokeStops from Lake Park. The park had become a hugely popular destination for Pokemon Go players, much to the chagrin—and sometimes outright hostility—of neighbors. Trash, parking issues, lack of bathrooms, trampled landscapes, and neighbors threatened with violence were just a few of the problems that arose. The controversy came to a head in September in a boring, livid, and gloriously absurd meeting that found both sides of the issue at wit’s end. In October, a handful of Lake Park PokeStops were indeed removed.
As of press time, Nintendo has yet to announce an Animal Crossing augmented reality game which, c’mon, would be really cool.