Walking down my town’s main drag on Sunday afternoon, I passed packs of teenagers staring intently into their cell phones. I had only just heard about “Pokémon Go” the day before, but I immediately recognized that these teens, whom I had never seen roaming around previously, must be playing some sort of game. It wasn’t difficult to deduce it was Pokémon, especially upon overhearing whispered conversations about Pikachu, eggs, and rings.
These hordes of teenagers were too young to remember the episode or likely even be familiar with the series, but they bore a striking resemblance to Lt. Riker and nearly the entire crew of the Starship Enterprise in a season five episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” entitled “The Game.”
In the episode, almost the entire crew becomes addicted to an augmented reality game created by another civilization determined to take over the ship and control its inhabitants. Thankfully, the only holdout, Wesley Crusher (a.k.a. Wil Wheaton), saves his friends and mother from the mind control the game had managed to wield over its victims.
Sure, There Are Some Benefits Here
There are some incredible things to say for “Pokémon Go”: it has in just one week inspired more kids, teenagers, and adults to get outside and walk around than Michelle Obama has in the last eight years with her “Let’s Move!” campaign. My friend Jason Bedrick spent three hours on Sunday playing the game with his kids in Arizona, where temperatures hovered near 110 degrees.
He was only outside roaming this long because of the game, and found he wasn’t alone. Bedrick wrote on Facebook, “It was really cool to meet so many random people and feel like you both belonged to the same secret club. Lots of knowing nods and smiles, tips about where to find rare Pokemon, funny stories, and so on. Good times.” Bedrick played alongside women and couples, singles and groups of neighbors he had never met prior to the game’s release.
In a country wracked with violence and animosity, it’s important to have games that help bring us together in the real world. Pokémon is certainly a fun game, according to the dozen teenagers who bumped into my stroller on the sidewalk today, an important diversion in our stressful everyday lives.
Mountains of research indicate kids spend less time outdoors than they have at any point in human history, and it’s taking a toll physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Gizmodo published a humorous post showcasing all of the “Pokémon Go” players complaining of sore legs because they actually got outside and exercised. Unfortunately, the lure outside isn’t beautiful temperatures, but instead as part of a video game that will soon, as all other games do, become boring and passé.
Ultimately, This Is A Distracting Fad
Might “Pokémon Go” ultimately convince kids and teens to fall in love with getting outside? In a homeschool group I frequent based on the teachings of Charlotte Mason, who prioritized nature study as a major part of her curriculum, mothers and kids (who normally eschew screen time) are surprising themselves by enjoying the game. More than a few, however, noticed their children paid little to no attention to the world around them while playing.
One avid bird-watcher even missed seeing an eagle his two-year-old sister was enthralled by. Even among a group of mothers whose children spend more time outside than most, the prevailing feeling was that while “Pokémon Go” was a fun way to spend an afternoon outside, it’s not a long-term strategy to maintain a relationship with the outdoors. A video game that provides an alternate reality is ultimately just a gimmick; a Band-Aid on a problem that a few weekends chasing Pokémon won’t cure.
The anecdotal tales of these fellow nature-loving mothers are buttressed by stories emerging this week of players being injured or robbed while playing. Not surprisingly, it can be dangerous to be engrossed in an alternate reality while still meandering around the real world.
Anyone familiar with church attendance and millennials knows a few things about gimmicks like this. For Acculturated last month, Julia Dent highlighted several ridiculous ways some Christian organizations and churches tried to lure millennials into the pews. From Emoji Bible to “Message Bible,” which dumbs down Scripture into millennial-speak, many modern churches are striking out at reaching a new generation of worshipers. Their failure can be attributed to an attempt to sex up something that offers its own intrinsic and transcendent claims.
Once You’re Done Playing, Look Around a Little
As Dent wrote, “The harder churches try to be cool and trendy, the more Millennials are joining the mass exodus from the church. Surveys show that Millennials want a small, traditional sanctuary with stained glass windows and quiet hymns. They want to feel like they’re in a church, and they want to go there to escape the busy world and all the technology that surrounds them all day every day.”
What drew Mason to nature study as a Christian was the ability for one to get to know God through His creations. For Mason and many others, being in nature is one way to worship God, since he created it. Creation can draw one closer to the Almighty, because it’s an expression of his own nature.
Mason wrote, “Here is a duty that lies upon us all; for we all enter on the inheritance of the heavens and the earth, the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. These are things to which we have right, no one can take them from us; but, until we get as much as a nodding and naming acquaintance with the things of Nature, they are a cause rather of irritation and depression than of joy.”
Every trip outside doesn’t have to be a religious experience, but to actually appreciate the outdoors and be inspired to return to it, one would likely have to experience at least some of the positive attributes it offers. If players spend their entire time outside absorbed in a game, ignoring the trees, birds, and atmosphere, why would they be motivated to go back when there’s no longer a lure of video game eggs?
We might find games that augment reality like “Pokémon Go” to be a new way to socialize and have fun, but it’s not a substitute for genuine time spent outside appreciating the world God made for us, instead of a far more limited world from a video-game developer overseas.