Who could imagine that a smartphone game would remind people that God has a house in their neighborhood?
A long time ago, when our middle kids were little, I used to drive them crazy by asking about whatever it was they were doing with "pokey-man." Every time I mispronounced it, they would huff, roll their eyes, and say something like, "MOM! It's POH-keh-mahn!" I never had the time to learn much about it before the fad lost steam or the kids aged past it. But I remember that many of the fictional beasts that looked cute and cuddly were actually supposed to be fierce and menacing. And, almost all girls loved Pikachu.
Fast forward to this summer, when 20-somethings can be nostalgic about the things they grew up with and just about everyone has smart phones. That's at least part of the explanation of why it didn't take long for Pokémon GO to be all the rage.
The other part is that it's an amazingly well-done real world treasure hunt. I don't play many computer or video games. I especially dislike Facebook apps like Farmville and Candy Crush. (No judgments on those who are currently running a virtual multinational agribusiness or have just reached level 92.) But I'm having a blast with Pokémon GO -- especially since at least five of our kids have downloaded the fun.
Pokémon GO encourages people to get out and walk. It also makes its players much more aware of what is around them. I never paid too much attention to the banjo painted on an electrical box nearby, or the plaque identifying land that belonged to John Harvard 350 years ago. Public places -- like fountains, memorials, and cemeteries -- are "Poké-stops," where gamers can collect tools for the game. In the process they can also learn something by reading a short and informative blurb about where they are.
Funny thing: Pokémon GO puts almost every parish church on the map. You may observe a number of new people stopping at church parking lots or near outdoor statues rather than just passing by. I was delighted to learn that there is a Russian Orthodox church and cemetery in Dracut. And yes, I drove up to the door to take a look, gather some Poké-balls, and say a little prayer.
Who could imagine that a smartphone game would remind people that God has a house in their neighborhood? But when Father Paul Ring realized that one of his parishes in one of the Bridgewaters was a Pokémon "gym," he changed his outdoor sign to read, "Come for Pokémon, Stay for Mass." That's a great example of new evangelization!
I used to think we Catholics had something to learn from the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who walk through neighborhoods knocking on doors. But I think we can learn a few things about fulfilling the Great Commission from playing Pokémon GO, too. First, we need to get out of where we are and walk around the world we live in. That's how we can stop taking what's around us for granted and start paying attention to things we have yet to notice. We also need to actively engage who and what we meet wherever we go. We ought to become people who choose to play along, join a team, and opt-in rather than those who sit back and leave it all to someone else. We ought to "power up" or "evolve" until we are strong enough to do battle against sin. And, we ought to keep playing until we "catch 'em all."
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.