The international phenomenon known as "Pokemon Go" was officially release on the 6th of July earlier this year, and boy has it been stirring up a storm ever since. If I am not mistaken, this is probably one of the first games that incorporates both the virtual and physical world. The general concept of the game is players walk around in public hunting these "Pokemon". Different locations serve as different hotspots for "Pokemons", with some areas having more than others and the possibility of catching a rare Pokemon depends on location as well. Players can visit PokeStops (which are usually placed in places of worship, restaurants, monuments, parks etc) to get items and experience (to level up) for free and a player can pit their Pokemons against others at PokeGyms.
Pokemon came to Malaysia a couple of days ago (August 6th I think) and to say that it is really catching on is... an understatement. I decided to give this game a try just to see what all the hype was about and I'll admit it can be VERY FUN making it REALLY ADDICTIVE! While I knew this game is a big hit, it did not prepare me for what I was about to see. I discovered the area I lived in had many PokeStops, so I ventured out to go get myself some free items. I thought it would pretty embarrassing to be seemingly wondering around aimlessly while staring at my phone but when I got there - there were PLENTY of people doing what I was doing! Some in groups, some alone... some were young children with their parents (the parents were playing too), some were in office attire etc. In fact, I noticed everyone (almost) is playing it everywhere (really)!
The game is definitely fun, and you actually do not need to have any prior knowledge of Pokemon to enjoy it. So the question that comes to mind then is... is Pokemon Go demonic, evil, dangerous, bad? Should Christians avoid playing Pokemon Go? Is this a tool of the devil to bring about the destruction and demise of people all around?
IS THIS DEMONIC/OF THE DEVIL/EVIL?
Some people have responded to the game's popularity by deeming it demonic. Firstly, because "Pokemon" literally means "Pocket Monster" in Japanese (where the game originated from). These "monsters" vary from cute to grotesque and unnatural - they surely must carry demonic symbolism! Let's address this first. Pokemon is a cartoon, and like many cartoons out there they contain elements of fantasy and imagination. Think of every cartoon that comes to mind, they each have different characters ranging from fantasy creatures, talking animals, to a mystical world etc.
Now, unless we have substantial proof that Pokemon Go has diabolical subliminal messaging (that conflicts with the Christian worldview) and/or creators and writers who are outrightly anti-Christian, it would be unfair to pass judgement based on this but giving exceptions to other fictional content. Think of every movie that Disney and Pixar have produced: don't they all involve more or less the same things? In fact, if I were to use the same line of thought I would go so far to say VeggieTales, a popular Christian cartoon for children which features talking vegetables is "unnatural" as well and hence should be boycotted!
Some then bring up the fact that Pokemon has elements of evolution which is against Christian teaching... again not very solid reasoning. The key here is to distinguish between fantasy and reality. If we are able to draw clear boundaries on what is real and what is imaginary, this should not effect us. If we are to absolutely avoid everything that could potentially influence us in a negative manner or lead us astray... the solution will be to completely avoid all forms of entertainment altogether.
Yet, that sounds silly doesn't it. Christians and churches that wage an all out war against culture may do really well in avoiding "contaminating" themselves but end up doing really poorly in reaching out to the world, which is a mandate for all Christians (Matthew 28:18-20). So on this note, I will say this: to me there is no substantial evidence that Pokemon Go is demonic unless proven otherwise.
EDIT: A few people pointed out to me that there was an "interview" supposedly confirming that the creator of the original Pokemon series was motivated by his disdain towards his parents' Christian beliefs. That interview is a HOAX. Read the real interview here.
IS IT BAD ENOUGH THAT WE SHOULD AVOID IT THOUGH?
However, I will say this: proceed with caution. The fact that it is really fun just means that the temptation to spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy (and even money) is real. This is like any other video/computer game: prolonged exposure to it can cause addiction, irritability, feelings of aggression and inability to concentrate on anything else. This is not just limited to Pokemon Go, but applies to social media, the internet, other online games, movies, series etc.
The key here is moderation. While there is nothing outrightly sinister about Pokemon Go, it does come with its own risks and drawbacks. Just as the bible tells us:
The truth is, not many of us are disciplined enough to keep ourselves in check though. If you can, set a schedule for this game. Do not neglect your school, work, social, work and church responsibilities. If you have trouble setting boundaries, ask for help from your leaders, family members and friends. If you have been spending too much time on this game, allow other people to point it out to you without getting agitated.
Take time to understand the risks and dangers that could potentially arise from this game. Search the internet for some safety tips, and parents read this for some helpful advice.
Not every new thing that comes along should immediately be labelled as "demonic." I understand that people have concerns, but that does not warrant a knee-jerk reaction that many Christians have. The truth is, we are too quick to pass judgment on things that we do not understand or that does not suit our own preferences. This kind of attitude actually alienates us even more from a world that we are called to reach, and we should be looking to build bridges instead of more walls.
But I do acknowledge that there is a real enemy out there who is actively trying to lure people away from God (1 Peter 5:8). He is known as a deceiver, and he would often use either TEMPTATION or DISTRACTIONS (which is more effective in my opinion) to keep us away from the things of God. We must be aware of the spiritual world and battle that we are involved in as Christians, and must do our part to live wisely (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you play Pokemon Go:
- Does it cause me to neglect my studies/work?
- Does this game take away quality time from my friends and family?
- Do I find myself making decisions based on the game without taking into consideration of those around me?
- Do I find myself constantly thinking about the game which makes me unable to concentrate on anything else?
- Do I find myself feeling frustrated, agitated, annoyed, grumpy while/after playing this game?
- Does this game actually make me not want to go to church, read my bible and/or pray? Do I find the quality and quantity of my time with God has reduced as a result of playing this game?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, then take some time to evaluate with the help of a leader and/or parent whether it is wise to carry on playing this game. Think of Pokemon Go, and any other form of entertainment really, in "nutritional" terms. Physically, we need a balanced diet of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins etc which would ensure we are "healthy" in our bodies. The occasional indulgence in "bad foods" will not be detrimental to our health, but we cannot live on cake, chocolate, pizzas, potato chips and the likes alone.
In the same way, our "spirits" need to be fed the right amount of things as well. We need time with God (church, bible reading and prayer) and time with our loved ones to ensure that we are "spiritually healthy." So by all means, play Pokemon Go if you like with a clear conscience - just remember that you are the one who owns the game and not be in place where the game owns you.
For more practical information by Focus On The Family including a guide for families, a review, parental guides as well as a breakdown on Pokemon's worldview, click this link.