It has been just about a month, and the fervor of Pokemon Go seems to have not slowed down any. And it is pretty easy to see why: nostalgia, marketing, mobiles, and a healthy dose of a summertime. A captive audience has made this the app of the season. As with most trends, churches have found themselves in the crosshairs. However, churches are finding Pokemon Go opening former discussions about using tools and behaviors in the Christian space which had been designed for secular perspectives. Is there a perspective where Pokemon Go passes the muster as church-aiding technology?
It would be first helpful to cross-reference characteristics of Pokemon Go against what we understand about ministry. Here’s one definition of ministry that I’ve used when talking about technology’s posture within it:
“The skillful use and application of mobile computer technologies for the fulfilling religious practices.”[Mobile Ministry Magazine]
What practices around the faith does Pokemon help fulfill? Fellowship, training, clear communication, and probably a few more.
In regards to fellowship, we noticed that Pokémon Go has caused people to connect with one another in ways that they had not previously done before. Or, had not done before with the aid of a mobile device. A recent article on the Religion News website called church communities not to be alarmed that scores of youth, young, and not-so-young adults could be found heads-down in their parking lots. A friend who is a pastor remarked at how he’d seen his son willingly go outside with his friends to catch Pokemon, where normally staying in (and playing a networked game) might be the preferred meeting.
One could argue, Pokemon makes another excuse to live out Hebrews 10:25: “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
I use the word “training” because of its association to what one does with Pokemon (you catch them, then train them so that they evolve, and then start the process over again). Now, that might not be discipleship in the Matthew 28:18-20 sense, but the nature of gameplay does lend itself to being shared and taught repeatedly. It isn’t uncommon to see city parks with a decent amount of foot traffic because of the game with young and old stopping one another asking about what they have caught, refreshed pokestops, or even strategies to level up at gyms. When Christianity Today shared their perspective on Pokemon Go, it was appropriate they pointed to the value of games spiritually and culturally.
Lastly, I think a key faith and life, principle Pokemon Go shares with faith practices is its attention to clear communication. One of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity (in my opinion), is the development and use of creeds. Creeds were engineered to audibly tune the speaker and listener to the truths about the Christian faith, without needing a significant amount of spiritual training to make it happen. This is the user experience at its best. Pokemon Go seems to follow the same flow by starting with the ease at which one can get started with the game, to the context-awake tutorials, to the gameplay–it has been designed with
Pokemon Go seems to follow a similar flow by starting with the ease at which one can get started with the game, to the context-awake tutorials, to the gameplay. Every aspect of the game has been designed with clarity of purpose in mind. Now, I’m not saying that you will learn all of the available Pokemon just as easily as you would understand the Trinity after reciting the Apostle’s Creed, but there is that affect. A well-designed game speaks to a clear purpose, just as much as a well-understood psalm or proverb adds clarity to life and faith (like Proverbs 4).
Now, this is a simple rubric to consider, and certainly the concerns about Pokemon Go are not to be ignored. But it does seem that in some measures, looking at Pokemon Go through these lenses does help us understand that there is some aiding to the mission of the church able to happen here. It might not be the best perspective, but it is probably one to consider as games, mobile, and connected spaces become more the consistent reality for our communities.
How have you, or your church community, taken to using Pokemon Go to fulfill the mission of your church? What perspectives have you gained?
[The Pokemon Go logo is trademarked by Nintendo and used for Editorial Purposes only.]