Friday, July 22, 2016

What's With Pokémon Go?

So there’s a new cultural phenomenon, and it has a lot of people talking. Just about everyone has at least heard about Pokémon Go, if they’re not playing it. And it has also been making news for the number of accidents it seems to be causing. I thought it could be interesting to take a look at it here, too. We’ll discuss what it is, what its dangers and benefits may be, and what spiritual wisdom we can apply to it.

Pokémon Go

So first things first: what is Pokémon Go? Well, it is a video game for mobile phones. More than that, it is an augmented-reality game. “Augmented reality” means that the game occurs on the screen, but incorporates the real world around it. Pokémon Go uses a phone’s GPS to guide players to locations where they can collect pokémon and have matches. It also uses the phone’s camera to superimpose game sprites onto images of the real world, and the step counter to advance certain goals like hatching eggs. It becomes a very immersive experience.

Most people who know me know I am a gamer, but I am not playing Pokémon Go. It isn’t because I have something against it, though. I just never got into Pokémon when I was young, like most people my age did. If it were Mario Go or Megaman Go, I’d be all over it. Or at least, I would want to be. But not only do I have no interest in Pokémon Go, I also do not have the capability. My phone is not up to spec.

I do think it is a very cool idea, though. Augmented reality allows you to step into the video game, something gamers have wanted to be able to do from the beginning. It allows you to live it, more than just playing it. And it is less disorienting than full virtual reality. Pokémon Go represents a sort of best-of-both-worlds, and could easily be the future of the video game industry.

The Risks

For some people, though, that sounds frightening. Certainly, there are risks. How disconnected from reality do we want people to be? And isn’t it dangerous? Listen to the news, and you are likely to think that. It is sickening to hear of people disrespecting a holocaust museum because they are playing there, and to hear of teenagers being hit in the street. There is also risk inherent in the fact that people can set up locations, which could conceivably be abused as a way to lure children.

While the risks are real, however, they should not be overblown. Around 30 million people in the US, 10% of our population, are playing Pokémon Go. And again, that is just in the US. A handful of incidents being trumped up, and which already seem to be dying down, is not emblematic of inherent dangers. Particularly not when we are talking about so many users. Everything has its bad eggs, and nothing should be judged merely on their account.

Maybe the accidents are going down, but it still represents something insidious, perhaps. The very unreality of it is a threat. It separates young people from the world around them, leaving them isolated and unprepared to face the necessities of life. They are descending into a fantasy world that will make them unable to mature and accomplish anything.

The Benefits

I cannot ignore the possibility of that, but I do not want to jump to it as the only conclusion, either. For one thing, I think it is better than most other video games in the sense of attaching people to the real world. Pokémon Go gets them outside, gets them moving, looking at the world around them and connecting with people standing next to them. It is better than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen (he said on his blog).

More than that, though, the criticism of unreality could be leveled at any form of fiction. If you have a problem with it, then you shouldn’t be watching TV, going to movies or plays, or reading novels at all. Those things also take you into a world different from the one in which you live. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, you would not be human without it.

I have discussed this before, but it goes back to what J.R.R. Tolkien described as “subcreation.” Subcreative capacity is another way of saying “imagination.” We are capable of envisioning realities different from our own. And, to a certain lesser extent, we can bring that subcreated reality into being. The “sub” in subcreation comes from the fact that we cannot make anything out of nothing. We are not God. But we are like God, we are made in His image, because we have the ability to think, to choose, and to change the things around us rather than merely being buffeted by them. We are craftsmen under Him, and imagination is our tool.

Pokémon Go is an extension of this concept. Laugh if you want, but it is true. No one is going to be able to make real pokémon as a result, of course, but playing the game has the potential to lead to other types of goods. It teaches planning, healthy competition, activity, and just in general gives people hope. It gives them control of something in a world that often feels like it is going mad. It is a relief valve for life.

Some Warnings

Those are all the positives, and I do believe they are there. But I want to say a word to my peers who find what I have said justifying. The good things available from a game like this are not an excuse to ignore its excesses. You have to think. Stay out of roads. Stay out of cemeteries. Stay off of cliff edges. And if you can’t, don’t blame someone else when you get in trouble. When people have gotten hurt, embarrassed, or in trouble while they play, it has been their own stupid fault. So please, don’t be stupid.

Also, don’t be too eager to escape the real world. I obviously think that has its uses, and I love games, too. They are a release. But they should not be everything. At some point, phones, tablets, and controllers need to be put down so a difference can be made in real life. Be proactive. You don’t have to give up playing, but achieve some balance.

And finally, just be aware. Nothing with a plot is value-neutral. Every author or creator is trying to tell you something. I do not know what that is in Pokémon in general, or in Pokémon Go in particular (though this web comic by JHallComics has an interesting take). I know it includes some evolution, though that seems to be at cross purposes since it takes intelligent action to make it happen in-game. But whatever. I really don’t know. I am just saying to look. Don’t be a passive consumer. Figure out the message, see if it matches reality, and decide what to do from there.

Seeking Meaning

You can probably guess my perspective, and I hope it will be yours. The ultimate rule of life should be the Bible, not Pokémon. Scripture has proven lastingly valuable, more than anything else. We have to compare those things to it to find where they are lacking, so we will not be caught up in their flaws.

I hope this article has been informative. I tried to include a little bit for everyone. Pokémon Go is not the danger it is being made out to be. It even has a lot of upside. But it is not flawless, either. If you are going to play, you need to pay attention, and not just to where you are walking. An escape can be a great thing. Imagination is a connection to the nature of God, and it helps us see how we can change things for the better. We ought to exercise it. Just make sure it doesn’t end up being a different type of cage. In other words, have fun, but keep your eyes open!

(From The Wardrobe Door blog)

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