Pokémon GO, the new smartphone game from Nintendo and Niantic, has recently generated crazy headlines as it continues to add new members and make mind-boggling amounts of money with each passing day. The game uses your phone’s GPS and camera to turn your world into a real-life scavenger hunt for the Pokémon millions grew up seeing only on their Gameboys. In the week since its release, it has already increased Nintendo’s value by over $9 billion dollars—a more than twenty-five percent jump— and iPhone users alone spend roughly $1.6 million a day on in-app purchases. When one considers that the game has only been officially released in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, it’s understandable why many forecast that those profits will only grow across the coming months.
Even those who’ve never given a second thought to trying the game have likely been taken by some of the entertaining and, at times, troubling tales of those who have. Last Friday, for example, a teenager in Big Wind River, Wyoming, found a dead body floating down the river where she was attempting to capture water Pokémon. In Missouri, police arrested a group of young men used the game to lure victims wandering the streets in their quest to “catch ’em all” to their car at which point they were robbed at gunpoint.
On the less troubling side, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is one of thousands that were selected to house a gym where players can compete to prove their abilities. As you might expect, they were not too happy when a fairy Pokémon named LoveIsLove took the top spot—though those who find their actions reprehensible have found the irony most enjoyable. The game also stands to provide a number of health benefits to its users given that you must actually go outside and walk around to find most of the little creatures and visit the various places of importance. Many have joked that Pokémon GO has done more to combat child obesity in twenty-four hours than government programs have done in years, and they’re not necessarily wrong.
I think my favorite stories, however, are those of families that have all joined in the craze and now spend evenings walking together in search of new creatures instead of locked away in their respective rooms or stationed firmly in front of the television. Parents who grew up playing the game have a new avenue through which they can relate to their children, and even those who never picked up a Gameboy can download the app and join a world that fascinates those they love. For all the dangers and damages the game might pose, it also provides a real opportunity for those who are willing to take advantage of it.
In addition to families, the game has provided churches with a similar opportunity. Because the game’s creators chose churches to be a common location for PokeStops and gyms, we are likely to see many new faces around our churches in the coming weeks and months. Will we use those opportunities to share God’s love with those who might otherwise never come near our churches or will we bemoan the occasional inconvenience caused by people who are more interested in Pokémon than God? I’m pretty sure there’s only one right answer to that question and it entails neither snarky comments about respect for a building nor judgment about cell phone usage.
Often times, it seems like our greatest struggle as a faith is simply getting people to give us an opportunity to show them what we’re really about—that there’s so much more to us and to Christ than judgment and condemnation. If we’ll embrace it, Pokémon GO could provide just that kind of opportunity.
Perhaps that means setting aside part of our church campuses for those stopping by in search of creatures and items, or providing water and something to eat for those out following their phones in the hot summer sun. Whatever gestures God might lead us to take, remember that our primary purpose is to follow Christ’s example and share his love with people where they are. Let’s not let these opportunities pass us by. God can use this game to accomplish amazing things for his kingdom if we’re willing to follow his lead. Will you?