The mind-boggling reality that we know as the Incarnation—God becoming man—is an explicit affirmation of the created world, and thanks to this we Catholics look at the created world as something good. And we can enjoy the things of this world, everything from booze to bingo, in their proper context. We can even enjoy PokémonGo.
Because of this affirmation of the created world, as Catholics we can also celebrate human ingenuity. The fact that we can use our minds to do the extraordinary—putting a man on the moon—or simply the clever….like the creation of massive worldwide Internet games like PokémonGo, is a good and impressive thing. It is how we use such things that determines whether they are moral or immoral…or, at a minimum, a good use of our time or not.
In the last three weeks, PokémonGo has dominated the lives of young and middle-aged alike around the world. It’s even penetrated the inner working life of the Catholic Church. As a recent article from Catholic Philly explains, many Catholic churches and shrines have been designated as Pokéstops, due to their character as architecturally and/or historically significant landmarks. Some pastors and parish administrators have embraced this as an opportunity for evangelization, engaging in conversation with players and inviting them to visit the church, sometimes offering prayer and the sacrament of Confession. The Office of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Green Bay, WI even published “Pokevangelization Guide” to help parishes understand the insanely popular PokémonGo trend, and potentially use it for evangelization purposes.
But how should a Catholic—specifically Catholic parents—respond to this mega-trend in the culture? I think there are at least two thoughts we Catholics can offer.
The first comes to us through reflections from the Theology of the Body. In our earthly life, there are many things that are dim fore-shadowings of the things of heaven. A hug, for example, is a hint about the eternal communion we will have with God in eternity. Or, earthly beauty is a foreshadowing of the Beatific Vision—the vision of God—we will have in eternity. We could say that these two things are “icons” of something greater—the Real Thing, which is God. The problem arises when we turn an icon into an idol. We live as if something that is “created” is like God or deserves as much of our focus as does God.
So, regarding the Pokémon phenomena, it is first and foremost a fun form of entertainment—for most. It can, however, quickly become an “idol”—something that so captures our mind and attention that much else, including pretty important things, get pushed to the side. I saw a hint of this last Friday night. My wife Maryanne and I had a date night in downtown West Chester, PA. As we walked after dinner for about an hour, we marveled at the dozens and dozens of people whose heads were mostly buried in their phones as they carefully navigated the streets—in search of Pokemon.
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, the image of zombies came to mind. Seriously. Although I didn’t (and don’t) take the PokémonGo phenomena that seriously, it did cause me to think about how much like lemmings we can all be (I usually become a lemming too once the NFL season begins). As a parent, I simply pass this on to my kids: “Enjoy the Pokémon-thing aggressively for about 2-3 weeks—because it is really clever and cool—but then lets get some balance back to life.” I remind them that entertainment should be the accent of life, not life itself. I’ve also said to them before, in other regards, “If the ‘second things’ in life substantially replace a focus on the ‘first things’ in life, we will usually at least lose the first things and, ironically, the second things too.”
The second thought I had was a little more philosophical. The Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper explains in his book Leisure, the Basis of Culture that the most complete forms of leisure are silent contemplation and prayer, celebration–particularly the celebration of worship, and study – the life of the mind. Additional recreational activities like conversation with friends, games, parties, books, movies and the like find their point of origin in this resting in our Creator. Dr. Michael Naughton of the University of Saint Thomas explains,
Amusements/entertainment do not have the capacity to put me in a place connected with mystery. Rather, when amusement is the principal form of leisure, it deadens the soul, anesthetizes the mind, perpetuates restlessness and fosters self-absorption. Authentic leisure, however, as that capacity of the soul to receive the reality of the world, has a transcendent dimension to it that helps me to participate in a reality beyond myself, but in such a way that the self is ennobled.
So, in short, Catholics can absolutely enjoy what amounts to one of the more amazing and clever entertainments in the past few decades–PokémonGo. And, we should marvel at the cleverness of the game’s creators. Their tech platform has generated more activity and daily users than Facebook and Twitter—in just a few weeks time! Truly amazing. I’m simply saying that as parents and educators, we would serve ourselves—and those in our care well by reflecting on the “why” and “how” of such phenomena: Why do things like this happen and how will it affect our lives.
But I’ve got to run now. I just heard there’s a Pikachu near the movie theatre…and my kids are going to want to catch him.