Yesterday morning, when I walked to the gym, I was on the lookout. And I think I spotted a few of them. It was too sunny to actually see their smartphone screens without sneaking up behind them, pushing them into a shady spot, and sticking my head on their shoulders, but they just didn’t look like walk-and-texters. Especially those two in the Boston Common: The nerdy looking young fellow nearly tripping over his own feet as he spurted across the grass, off the beaten path, smartphone in raised hand, near the Frog Pond. And while she may not have been as obvious, I do believe that the preppy looking young woman – the one with the whitish panty hose (ugh!) and prissy flats – was, in fact, caught up in some sort of quest. There was just something about her.
Then there was a clutch of youngsters hell bent for something or other careening around Downtown Crossing.
Hell bent for Pikachu, I’m guessing.
For those who’ve been so absorbed in real life (or what passes for it these days) that they’ve failed to notice the madness sweeping the nation: Pokémon Go has arrived. And it’s big. And it’s getting bigger.
I am certainly not opposed to time-wasting. I like crossword puzzles. And sudoku. I’m capable of idling away the minutes playing Tai Pei. Or checking out the latest outrage on dailymail.uk. But video games have never interested me. I can certainly distinguish among Pac Man, Super Mario Bros, and Pikachu. That’s about it.
But I take it that, at the simplest level, the goal in Pokémon Go is to travel around as a “trainer” and capture a shit-ton of Pokémon monsters. Of which Pikachu is perhaps the most well-known.’' What’s new and exciting is that, in Pokémon Go , the monsters exist in the “real world,” augmented reality division. Rather than just hunt and gather on game-issued backgrounds, you can use your GPS and smartphone camera to impose the monsters on whatever background you like. (Or something along these lines.)
Needless to say, hunters and gatherers are showing up in some somewhat inappropriate places. Like Arlington National Cemetery, where whatever game players are doing is apparently more important than playing Taps for some member of the Greatest Generation who lost two toes to frostbite in the Battle of the Bulge. (Ah, those were the days when reality did not need to be augmented.)
Gamers have also appeared at the Holocaust Museum, the 9/11 Museum, and other places where the purpose is seriousness of purpose, not monster mashing. There may be ways to make your location a no-play zone, but it’s not clear. I was thinking that churches might want to do so. I haven’t been to church in decades, but I’m guessing there are plenty of folks thumbing their smartphones playing Candy Crush during a sermon. And one would think that such behavior wouldn’t be smiled upon. (Church distraction is, of course, nothing new. One time, during my high school church-going days, I sat at Mass behind a woman who had the instructions to Lady Clairol folded into her missal, and spent the service figuring out how to hate that gray, wash it away.) But at least at some New England churches, they’re getting their Pokémon Go on as a way to attract young folks into their pews.
“If yours is like most mainline Protestant churches in Southern New England, you’ve spent a lot of time and energy wondering how you can get those 20- and 30-somethings to come to your church,” Tiffany Vail, associate conference Minister for communications for the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island conferences of the United Church of Christ, wrote in a blog post this week.
“What if I told you they are quite literally at your doorstep? Right now,” she said.
In Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game played on smartphones, churches are often designated “gyms,” where so-called trainers can pit their virtual critters against opponents, or “Poké Stops,” a place to pick up supplies.
“What that means is that people playing the game are going to stop outside your church with their phone and download some goodies. If your church is a gym, they may hang around for quite some time playing there,” Vail wrote. “So, whether you want it or not, you’ve got a lot of young people showing up.”
Vail has recommended churches embrace the sudden influx of “kids and teens ... But also a LOT of millennials” by setting up charging stations for people whose smartphones are running low on battery life; sharing WiFi connections freely; hosting Pokémon-specific events on church property; and changing signs outside to alert players that they’re near a “Poké Stop.” (Source: Boston Globe)
I’d say that, if this is the only way that the mainline Protestant churches of Southern New England can make themselves relevant, it’s pretty much game-over.
But it does remind me of a couple of toys I saw years ago. One was a stuff Torah, complete with eyes and smile. The other was a Nativity scene with teddy bears taking on the roles of the principles. (Aww…)
Anyway, it’s no surprise that, as Pokémon Go takes off – on the trajectory to pass the number of Twitter users! more numerous (already) than Tinder subscribers (which has got to be a good thing)! sucking up more minutes in the average users day than Snapchat! – I will be left behind, fussing around with my pencils and erasers, solving my sudoku, one 9x9 matrix at a time.
I’m afraid I’m just an old crank, with no desire to augment my personal reality. Life, I’m afraid, is plenty real enough as it is, without stumbling around Boston, peering through my smartphone’s lens, trying to bag another Pikachu.
Non-play-ahs can learn more about Pokémon Go here, on Vox.