MOSCOW – Pikachu? No, that’s Peter the Great.
Moscow authorities want Russians to stop searching the streets for Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and other Pokemon and instead try to catch virtual versions of Russian historical figures from the tsars to space pioneer Yury Gagarin.
The city government says it’s developing a smartphone application that works like the virally popular “augmented reality” game Pokemon Go, but with a patriotic twist: it will help educate Muscovites about the history of their country and its capital. And give them some exercise.
The “aim of the application is to use fashionable augmented reality technology to draw attention to Moscow’s rich cultural heritage, and also to give Muscovites a reason to walk more,” the city Department of Information Technology said in a July 25 statement.
It will be available for download by the end of August, the statement says.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has frequently sought to reduce reliance on the West by trying to create home-grown versions of widespread technology. It has stepped up these efforts since ties with the West deteriorated severely following Moscow’s interference in Ukraine in 2014, which prompted the United States and European Union to impose sanctions.
Last year, Russia unveiled a payment card meant to rival giants such as Visa and MasterCard.
Pop-culture trends that catch fire in the West often swiftly give rise to copycat versions in Russia. When J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter books charmed readers worldwide, several series appeared in Russia, including one whose protagonist was a Moscow girl named Tanya Grotter.
Instead of using smartphones to detect, catch, and “collect” virtual Pokemon creatures, users of Find Out Moscow, Photo will search the streets and parks of Moscow for famous historical and cultural figures.
Unlike in Pokemon Go, likenesses of the figures will actually be projected into reality in 3D, city authorities say. The app will invite users to photograph themselves with the 3D figures, while players of Pokemon Go can battle one another using the Pokemon they have collected and “trained.”
The list of personalities includes tsars Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible; Gagarin, the first man in space; Soviet-era rock icon Viktor Tsoi; revered writer Aleksandr Pushkin; scientist Mikhail Lomonosov; and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Crashing the Russian party is Napoleon Bonaparte.
Pokemon Go has yet to be released officially in Russia, but is being played avidly -- and has met with disapproval and suspicion from politicians, security officials, nationalists, Cossacks, and religious communities.
Some have painted the smartphone game as a spiritually empty money-spinner, and others as a potential assault on the beliefs of religious people who fear the virtual Pokemon may be projected into places of worship.
Others cast the application as a CIA plot to get Russian citizens to point their smartphone cameras into the secret nooks and crannies of Russia, allowing the American security services to harvest the information.