You might have recently noticed a new phenomenon happening in your city, and particularly around your church. Groups of youth and young adults (and a few older adults) roaming in packs throughout the city, staring intently at their cell phones. They’re searching for something, and they won’t rest until they’ve collected them all. Pokémon GO has arrived.
Released on July 6 in the US by Niantic, Pokémon GO has quickly swept the nation as former players of the series enjoy a trip down memory lane and introduce new players to the joy of collecting Pokémon. While the game is still in an early release state (there’s a ton of features still to come) there’s enough there to keep players searching for quite some time to come.
What is Pokémon Go?
The most notable feature of Pokémon GO is its use of Augmented Reality. AR (as opposed to Virtual Reality), layers new information on top of the user’s vision or phone screen to augment the world with new information or game elements. This can be as complex as the forthcoming Windows Holographic, or as simple as adding information to a phone’s camera view (like the location of Pokémon!)
The game uses the real world as your game “board” where Pokémon (short for Pocket Monsters) are hidden on streets, near businesses, near churches and, well, literally all over. The game is aware of the terrain, so water Pokémon are more likely to spawn near a lake or river, etc. This encourages players to explore new places and search high and low for new and different Pokémon.
Once you find a Pokémon you’d like to capture, you tap on it and begin playing the capture minigame. This consists of using your finger to flick Pokéballs skee-ball style towards the target. Depending on your accuracy and the strength of the Pokémon you’re trying to catch, you might capture it right away or take several attempts. Take too long, though, and the Pokémon will escape.
After you capture them, Pokémon can be upgraded, released for a small reward, or, eventually, evolved into a higher form, a new and different Pokémon for your collection. With 142 Pokémon to capture at launch, there’s a lot to keep people busy playing.
When you need to fetch a new supply of Pokéballs, though, you’ll need to visit a Pokéstop. Niantic has cleverly built a database of art and architectural features throughout the world and has located Pokéstops nearby. By walking to a local painting, sculpture or other location, you can gather a small amount of supplies, but only once every few minutes, thus encouraging players to explore and seek out new Pokéstops to keep their supplies stocked.
At present the endgame of Pokémon Go is based around the Gyms. Gyms are located in public places, such as government buildings, parks and even (sometimes especially) churches. When you create your account you’ll be asked to pick a team from Team Valor (Red), Team Instinct (Yellow) and (the much more popular and better looking) Team Mystic (Blue). The teams compete for supremacy by battling their Pokémons with the reigning champion to try to claim the gym for their team. At this point it doesn’t appear the Gyms actually provide any advantage, but there’s a lot more to come.
For now, though, players are having a wonderful time exploring their neighborhoods with fellow Pokémon collectors.
What Does This Mean for the Church?
First, don’t freak out. When the original Pokémon games were released a number of churches failed to understand the nature of the games and concluded they were demonic in nature. The Church has largely forgotten this, but many of the players haven’t. We need to make sure that Pokémon GO players know that they’re as beloved and welcome as anyone who comes to our churches.
Second, make the players welcome! Pokémon GO is driving players who might never have come near our worship services to come by, explore and spend time near us. This is a chance to plug in with an often marginalized portion of our community. Consider what real life supplies a prospective Pokémon collector might need and provide them. Pokéball shaped cookies and bottles of water are obvious staples, but think outside the box a bit. Maybe that means placing a whiteboard with markers so collectors can post where they’re finding Pokémon nearby or other ways to make them feel welcomed.
Finally, get out and play! It’s not a hard game, nor is it super deep, but it’s getting people out of the house and active in their community. You don’t need anything more than an Android or iOS based smart phone and a willingness to take a walk. Go, play and explore your community. You might make a few connections that you’re unlikely to make on a Sunday morning (unless you spend your Sunday morning playing Pokémon GO, which we’re not encouraging!)
It’s so rare that the Church receives something in our culture that literally delivers people to our doors. We should be ready to meet them.
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