Gotta catch them all. Really?
It was only two weeks ago when Pokémon Go did not dominate the world. Now, the App version of the old-school trading cards has already became the biggest mobile game ever. Ever.
Whether you are playing this “augmented reality” game or not, the Pokémon Go phenomena is virtually inescapable.
With reports ranging from people falling off cliffs while playing to parents cheering on how it gets their children into outdoors exercise, the clever blend of gameplay and real-world interaction is definitely here to stay.
Even if you didn’t want to, you know all about Pokémon Go by now. But have you considered what its impact might be, on us all?
Relax. It’s just a game
Sure, there are people taking Pokémon Go waaaaay seriously, wandering the streets at 3am, searching for Mew or Jigglypuff, armed only with poké balls. But despite the mobile game’s sophisticated interface, it is still just a simple variation on a treasure hunt. Deeper meaning doesn’t really come into it. Psychological impact is most likely to stem from becoming addicted to catching them all because, in contrast with plenty of other videogames, Pokémon Go is fairly harmless.
Anyone fearing the corruption of society by Pokémon Go should breathe a sigh of relief. Even the Poké Gym battles between trainers (players who reach Level Five) are tame, bloodless and short-lived. Indeed, the greatest damage Pokémon Go seems able to do is encourage players to not pay attention to their real-world surroundings. Something that players themselves really need to be mindful of (rather than blaming Pikachu for “making” them walk out in front of a car or break into someone’s property).
Virtual reality is still reality
… As much as it’s just a game and seems fairly harmless, Pokémon Go is going to prominently feature in law suits and criminal cases. Guaranteed. Only a matter of time, as Pokémon Go players virtually fill their pokédex — and get into all sorts of real-world situations. But here’s the good news: getting out and about in the real world is surely better than drowning deeper in the fantasy worlds we can exist within online or on-screen. Pokémon Go deserves applause for forcing us to walk and explore what’s around us.
Hopefully, as we wander further so that our Pokémon eggs will hatch, reality checks will steadily erupt and remind us of what actual life can be like.
Are you a Pokéstop?
When random groups of kids, teens or adults started loitering this week outside your office or favourite cafe or church hall, maybe you called the police. But the police probably responded with: “Oh, Pokéstop.” A Pokéstop (not to be confused with a Poké Gym, rookie) are places and landmarks designated by Pokémon Go. Players love Pokéstops because its where Pokémon are lured. Already, loads of churches around the world are seeing the potential for reaching people who would not normally come anywhere near them.
If your church is a Pokéstop, what might you be able to do interact with players? Can you make your Pokéstop a real-world destination that Pokémon-iacs will want to frequent? Offering refreshments, or phone-charging stations, are just some services you could provide. And how could you share with them what your Pokéstop is really all about? Catching a zubat or doduo is one thing; securing the salvation of Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit is a whole other level.
Gotta catch them all. Really?
Don’t kid yourself: Pokémon Go players are also going to be sitting in your pews or beanbags. There’s no way your church or faith community will be immune, given how many people of all ages are into Pokémon Go. So, start considering how your services and meetings can respond to this overwhelming social phenomena (possibly, in similar ways to those thinking through how a Pokéstop might bring the way, the truth and the life of Jesus to those hunting Psyduck or Mewtwo).
Here’s one suggestion: Remind those who are staring at the world through the Pokémon lens that it is possible to stop playing. To not become obsessed with catching them all. To take a break from Pikachu and reflect upon what drives our lust for more Jigglypuffs. Just because Pokémon Go is a virtual filter on reality, doesn’t mean how you play (or why) is removed from reality. Greed, foolishness and pride can all creep into gameplay from inside our imperfect hearts, which look for any excuse to ignore God’s hardwiring. (Mark 7:20)
Like any game that wants to hold the attention of players, Pokémon Go offers us the opportunity to catch more, train harder and, generally, reach higher levels of Pokémon–ing. If you’ve already become fired up about running your own gym or joining a team, chances are you are sinking stacks of time into getting up and Go-ing.
Imagine what might happen in your life — and those around you — if such devotion, attention and passion was poured into who you actually are. Because a Pokémon player is not who we are. It’s not our identity. It’s not what makes us tick or what we’re about.
If you are someone who has given their life to Jesus, then that makes you a follower of Jesus. Not a follower of Pikachu, Jigglypuff or Mewtwo.
Remember that, as you go safely about the fun and adventures of Pokémon Go. Because it would be a pity to chase after make-believe creatures in the real world, and forget about pursuing an intimate, dedicated relationship with The One we can firmly believe in (even without seeing — through our mobile camera).