Over the past few weeks, there’s been an invasion of reality by small virtual monsters. Since July 6, little Pokemon creatures have taken to reality and shown up at businesses, churches, national monuments, and a host of other public places. What’s going on?
Well, after a twenty year hiatus, the Pokemon monsters have returned. Yes, earlier generations might remember the ferocious little figures from the old Nintendo game. No one would have expected it, but Niantic Labs have brought the Pokemon monsters back in a whole new way.
No longer just a video game, the Pokemon creatures have now taken to reality and are among us.
Pokemon Go is an app that can be downloaded on a smart phone. Once downloaded, the app helps people to find Pokemon creatures placed strategically around them and noticeable only through the app. And these creatures seem to be everywhere.
Once the little monsters are found, a person tries to catch them by throwing PokeBalls at them. If caught, the various Pokemon creatures increase the influence of the player. Players can meet and fight in local “Gym” areas created by the game. And then,…
OK, for those who are not playing Pokemon Go or who are not familiar with gaming in general, all of this can be very confusing. It’s confusing not only in it logistics, but also in its purpose. Why are people doing this? What’s the appeal of this game?
When asked, most players are describing the game as a really fun, extended scavenger hunt. It’s experienced as a game full of twists and turns, excitement and competition. Currently, over 20 million people seem to really enjoy being out and about looking for Pokemon things. The game is an overwhelming and unexpected phenomenon.
With so many things to learn in order to play the game, is it possible to perhaps draw some spiritual lessons from it and its numerous players? Certainly, there are some things to criticize.
The US Holocaust Museum had to put a public ban on the game because people were playing it among the displays, and numerous car and other accidents have occurred because people were immersed in the game.
Beyond these justified concerns, is there something greater here?
In a very unique, mapping-merged-gaming kind of way, it can be argued that Pokemon Go is highlighting some important lessons about humanity’s spiritual nature. While some might argue with this rather sidewalk attempt to baptize aspects of Pokemon Go, it’s important to understand the call of the believer to look for God’s imprint everywhere and to draw good or noble lessons from any created thing.
So, some of the spiritual lessons of Pokemon Go could be:
First, Pokemon Go has people off their couches and gamers away from their stations. People are actually outside, moving, and having (some form of) interaction with others. Humanity was not made for inertia.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that two of humanity’s greatest talents were mobility and community. These dimensions of human nature are also seen throughout the Sacred Scriptures, as God’s people journey and dwell together. While many sacred stories could be referenced to illustrate this point, the Exodus from slavery in Egypt stands as a monumental example in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
And so humanity is called to move, to be (literally) in the midst of the world around it, and to live in community (even as it might be partially defined or expressed in the twenty-first century).
Secondly, the players of Pokemon Go are looking for something. Their mobility and community are not marked by idleness or a lack of due course. The American author Carl Sandburg once wrote, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”
While that may summarize much of Western culture today, it does not summarize Pokemon Go, or for that matter the desire of the human heart for purpose and direction. Humanity was made for a journey, for a great scavenger hunt, but one that has a destination and goal. As the ancient Israelites knew that the exodus would end in the Promised Land of their forefathers, so the human person can come to realize that his destination is in God and his way of love and service.
As odd as it might seem to some, the search for a simple Pokemon can reflect or point to this great truth.
Thirdly, the players of Pokeman Go realize that their journey’s end is not in themselves. They are eagerly searching, sometimes to the negligence of their own safety, for those little grinning monsters.
Admittedly, it’s a relatively simple search, but it’s one that could imitate the life-changing search of the human heart for God or at least the transcendental things outside of a person’s own subjectivity. When so many people are convinced that everything they need is found within their own power and control, a young adult searching for a Pokemon figure is a bit refreshing (especially when it leads them to a house of worship).
And so, three simple lessons of Pokemon Go: the player is on a search, she’s looking for something, and the searching for that something outside of herself.
These can be strong spiritual lessons, or least reminders to the person of good will: humanity is on a journey, there is a destination, and that destination is found in God.