How many people have you seen in the last few days walking around your community with their nose in their smartphone? Chances are they are playing “Pokémon Go”—the biggest mobile game in US History,
As a Christian, anytime something new comes out, especially things that go viral, my mind immediately races to spiritual implications. Admittedly, I too have had my nose in my phone the past few days and have become a Level 9 trainer (Go Team Instinct!).
But as I’ve been playing, I’m constantly having questions swirling in my mind such as:
How should Christians respond to Pokemon Go? What does it have to good news of Jesus Christ?
1. What is Pokémon Go?
Before I get into the spiritual implications, some of you may have no idea what Pokemon Go is, other hearing than your kids, grandkids, news stations, or State Transportation Departments talk about it.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game that places animated monsters in the real world. All players, also known as Pokémon trainers, need is their smartphone to view into this world full of Pokémon.
The object of the game is to capture as many Pokémon as possible, or, as the slogan says, “gotta catch ’em all.” After assembling their personal team of Pokémon, trainers can compete against other trainers by participating in “Pokémon Battles”—essentially a Pokémon boxing match.
2. What Are People Doing While They Play?
Unlike traditional video and mobile games, Pokémon Go requires A LOT of physically moving around—outside of your house. The game utilizes Google Maps and places Pokémon in actual GPS coordinates where people have to travel.
Playing the game well involves a great deal of walking. Because Pokémon can pop up at any moment, trainers typically are looking at their phones everywhere they go, in an attempt to “catch ’em all.”
If you see a trainer suddenly stop in his or her tracks, it’s because a Pokémon popped up and they are trying to catch it!
Is the LifePoint Church building a part of the game?
Yes. Along with Pokémon, there are also places called “PokeStops” where trainers can collect items, and “PokeGyms” where battles take place.
Our very own LifePoint Church building is a “PokeStop.” But it’s not just our church building, many PokeStops are at church buildings across the nation.
The past couple days during the work day, I’ve noticed dozens of people walk, bike, skate, and drive to our very own Pokéstop and collect items and capture Pokémon.
3. Why Pokémon Go so popular??
As previously mentioned, Pokémon Go is the biggest US mobile game ever, and there are many reasons that contribute to it’s popularity.
It’s Nostalgic. The core of Pokémon Go trainers grew up loving the Pokémon Go brand: video games, tv series, trading cards, movies, etc. The mobile version capitalized on the already successful Pokémon Go brand.
Also, the kids who love and grew up with Pokémon are now old enough to be influential in the media that helps perpetuate it’s popularity, and have jobs to fund the future marketing and development of the game.
It’s Familiar. In most video games, there is a learning curve of familiarizing yourself to the new world where the game takes place. In Pokémon Go, there is no geographic learning curve. The game uses the familiar, real world around us that we’ve been familiarizing ourselves with for decades.
The Technology is Amazing. No game has so beautifully woven in-game graphics and animation with the the real world around us. Playing is actually fun. Catching Pokémon is fun. Finding Pokémon in my bedroom and kitchen is surprising… and fun!
People Play In Community, Not in Isolation. In previous video games, people often seclude themselves in their homes, or a few friends gather together to play in ones home. In Pokémon Go, people are sitting and walking together outside while they play the game.
Parents are playing outside with their children, walking around in the real world and having something already planned that’s interactive.
Friends are calling and texting other friends to meet and go catch Pokémon.
Strangers see other potential new friends playing the game and play along with them.
It is amazing to look outside and see more people walking around and interacting. The game has brought life to previously desolate communities.
It Encourages Exercise. Along with the game being GPS based, one of the ways to catch Pokémon is to hatch eggs, and eggs only hatch when the trainer is moving around. No fooling the game because it tracks both the trainers GPS movements (so you can’t cheat with just shaking the phone around) and pedometer (so you can’t cheat by just driving).
Also, many of the PokeStops are along walking trails.
It’s a Thing Because It’s A Thing. People are playing because they see others playing! By far the best marketing for the game is potential new trainers looking outside and seeing lots of people playing.
4. Should Christians Use Pokémon Go?
When asking “should” about a behavior, Christians need to remember the ultimate goal is holiness—being made more like God.
Should Christians use the internet? Should Christians use sound systems? Should Christians use pews? Should Christians use leather-bound printed books?
When it comes to tools, gifts, and technology, Christians have three categories to place things:
- We can receive it.
- We can reject it.
- We can redeem it.
Christians should receive good things that make us more holy. An example would the the Word of God, nutritious food and water, or healthy Christian friendships.
Christians should reject things that will never make us more holy. Pornography and relationships that cause us to sin are examples of things Christians should reject.
Christians should redeem things (such as tools and technology) that can be leveraged for our holiness or the holiness of others. The internet, sound systems, seating, and books are examples of things that can either be used for evil, or we can redeem to make us and others holy.
What does the Bible Say?
As Believers, the Bible is our highest authority, and when dealing with real world issues, we look to the Bible for guidance on how we can be made more holy. The Bible doesn’t speak against playing video games or mobile technology. Christians should approach all technology that is biblically permissible with freedom—freedom to use it and enjoy it, for God’s glory.
What is Your Motive?
With any technology, tool, or gift, to redeem it means to place your desire for God above your desire to please yourself. Are you playing Pokémon Go for your own success and for your own achievement to make yourself feel good? Or are you playing out of a desire for God, that in Him you will find your deepest joy, and you want this tool for His glory.
5. How Can Christians Use Pokémon Go For The Glory of God?
So how can Christians play Pokémon Go in a God-glorifying way? Christians should strongly consider using Pokémon go for evangelism opportunities.
As Christ-followers, our only purpose in life is to go and make disciples. Everything that we do and every thing that we say should be to glorify God and be ministers of reconciliation, reconciling people back to God.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”2 Corinthians 5:17-19
God has brought us into His family, the Church, and we should be looking for every opportunity to bring others into the family of God as well.
My friend Phillip posted on Facebook his thoughts about using Pokémon Go for evangelism, reaching non-Believers for Jesus.
“It may sound strange but Pokémon Go is a massive evangelism opportunity. I have never seen so many people united by one thing, wandering around in public. Walked around in the park yesterday and today and at least 50 people on each occasion were searching for Pokémon. Pokémon Go is providing a communal aspect that people are searching for. I got on today because of the easy layup to start conversations with complete strangers. I give Pokémon Go a good three months before it loses shelf life but the conversations we may have from meeting random people could impact them forever.”
As you’re playing Pokémon Go, look to engage and talk with people that need a friend and need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you words, all you need to do is start a conversation, and, God-willing, they will be open to talking about their spiritual journey.
Pokémon Go and make disciples.