What could Pokémon possibly have to do with the Gospel? On Tuesday, October 18th the Mount Angel Seminary Debate Club met to explore this very question. The resolution was: Pokémon GO is conducive to evangelization, with the team The Novitiates, guided by Professor Mark Woolman, defending the resolution, and the team The Second Cummings, guided by Dr. Andrew Cummings, opposing.
Pokémon GO, as many of you are perhaps aware, is a very popular game played on a smart phone. But unlike many such games, it is necessary for players to move around in the real world to find and capture the virtual creatures called Pokémon.
There are also supply stations that are attached to real-world places, and players must stop at these places to secure items they will need. This aspect of the game is what makes the discussion so relevant, as even on our hilltop, all the Stations of the Cross have been designated by the makers of the game as stations (or as they are called in the game, PokeStops), where items may be found.
So many kids (and some who are no longer kids) come to a place like Mount Angel Abbey, it would seem, not in search of God, but of Pokémon. Therefore the question must be asked, is this good? Bad? Is this an opportunity or is it a problem?
|The Two Debate Teams|
Both teams made excellent points on both sides of this question. The Novitiates argued that the Church has always met people where they are, has always gone into people’s real world, and brought them the Gospel. If this is where people are, we must go there and find ways to use this medium to bring them the message of the Gospel. No matter what has drawn them to a place like our hilltop, God can use this to bring them to a deeper encounter with Himself.
Further, if we condemn or turn them away for this reason, what message do they receive about God and his Church? They will feel that the Church does not understand or care about what they care about, and will be less likely than ever to have anything to do with it.
The Second Cummings countered that reality itself is sacramental, and God uses it to speak to us, but when we encounter the world through the lens of a smartphone, as seems to be more and more the case, true encounter is more and more lacking. In the place of sacramental encounters and authentic relationships, we are increasingly living in an artificial realm of our own construction, interacting not with people but the virtual avatars of what they wish they could be.
Our mission cannot therefore be to encourage this dehumanizing trend, but rather help people free themselves from it, and through liturgy, the sacraments, and a renewed appreciation of the beauty of reality and human relationships, enter into an authentic encounter with God and others.
The conclusion that I took from this discussion, and which I hope others reached as well, was that there is a real and urgent need to understand and reach out to the world in which people live, but that the Gospel message must not be confined to this world.
The message of the Gospel is always something radically different that, yes, meets us where we are, but transcends and elevates our limited reality to unimaginable heights. I believe the motto of Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, “seek the things that are above,” offers us a much-needed corrective. We must reach out to everyone, the Pokémon players included, but we must lead them, and must ourselves turn the eyes of our hearts ever upward to things which far surpass this world, or any virtual re-imaginings of it.
Even if evangelization begins with a search for Pokémon, it can never stop until it arrives at its ultimate and eternal destination, which surpasses all worlds, virtual or otherwise.