Pokémon GO, the mobile game that has earned its developers Niantic Labs at least 2 billion dollars to date, does not have a messaging system. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that you could even add friends through the app, a feature that is vital to the Pokémon series’s signature battling and trading. The introduction of this key feature allowed players to do an additional fun thing, something that past iterations of the game never could: collect gifts from Pokestops to exchange between connected users, bestowing Pokéballs, potions, special Eggs, and other bonuses to those who received them. It’s a neat way to keep people engaged socially with the game, while providing another outlet for gaining the many items needed to play it.
It’s through this system that I’ve not only enjoyed seeing where my friends and family have traveled over the past few months (the gifts show the thumbnail, name and location of the Pokéstop where they were collected, giving you a glimpse into the locations the sender has visited), but also that I was surprised by an unexpected bit of scandal: a nude, sent to me through Pokémon GO. How could this have possibly happened? They game won’t even let me IM my friend list, much less send them a picture.
It came from a friend of mine over in Australia. As it turns out, Pokéstops are built up from Niantic’s previous game Ingress, which used its physical points of interest known as portals (which are generated by users through photos and repeat visits) as the basis of those in Pokémon GO. Through this system, almost anything that is visited often enough can become a portal, and thus, almost any physical point of interest can become a Pokéstop, including paintings and other forms of art (a system that, as the ShittyPokéstops subreddit has shown us, is sometimes abused to comical effect). In this case, it was the lovely—and rather famous, I found out— nude portrait known as Chloe, who has resided in the Young and Jackson Hotel in Melbourne, Australia since 1909. The painting is three meters high and the work of French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre (and the model’s name, as it turns out, was actually Marie).
While I’m having a lot of fun pointing out this unintended little technicality, of course, I’m not suggesting anyone ring the alarm over nudity in Pokémon GO: I’m gonna guess there are actually very few pieces of nude art that have been immortalized through Pokéstops, and a nude painting is a far cry from sending naked photos through a videogame without obtaining the recipient’s consent. Rather, it does highlight the myriad of ways that little things like this can sometimes slip through the cracks, and I hope Niantic doesn’t go out of its way to police the thumbnail pictures in the game. (How many kids play the game? Am I naive to assume most young children don’t have their own smartphones to play Pokémon GO?).
But there you have it. I got sent a nude in Pokémon GO. It’s not a big deal but I’m still amused by it. I look forward to receiving a gift from the statue of David next.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.