I’m going to come out and say it: I totally love Pokémon Go.
I really do.
I’m a little embarrassed about it, but I can’t help it. I can’t help but open the app whenever I run out to the store or happen to be in a public area with restaurants and movies theaters. I just have to see if any of those little pocket monsters are anywhere nearby.
While the game has come under some criticism due to some users going to extremes of jumping out of moving cars and falling off cliffs in order to catch ‘em all, I actually think that the game has done a lot of good in some ways.
I’m not the first to suggest this. Some have pointed to Pokémon Go’s effect on an increase in neighborliness. Some have observed that people who might otherwise be stuck inside playing video games are actually going out into the light of day to play video games instead. And yet others have suggested that the game has led to an increase in people’s awareness of meaningful public spaces.
In his article on The American Conservative, Alexi Sargeant writes, “PokéStops fight back against the flattening of the cityscape. Players of the game are being trained to orient themselves towards the sort of monuments and ‘decorations’ that ennoble our habitat.” It is this re-enchanting quality of Pokémon Go that fascinates me most.
Most of the time, many of us are preoccupied with the concerns of this world: making money, saving for a house, getting schoolwork done, etc. We try to carve out a meaningful life for ourselves within the scope of what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls “the immanent frame.”
Philosopher James K.A. Smith helpfully describes Taylor’s immanent frame as “a constructed social space that frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order. It is the circumscribed space of the modern social imaginary that precludes transcendence.” This immanent frame suffocates all of us, regardless of what we believe. The immanent frame is concerned more with how we believe.
This means that even those of us who are Christians often believe in the same way as those who are not. We tend to think of our faith as that which leads to a meaningful life as opposed to that which gives us access to the transcendent reality of God’s Kingdom. Often our narratives of Orthodoxy are rooted in history (“Proclaiming the Truth since AD 33”) rather than eternity.
Indeed, the transcendent is something that tends to be lost on those of us who inhabit a world following the Enlightenment. While we may not go so far as the New Atheist types so as to say that only that which is “natural” is “real,” we often differentiate between the “earthly” and the “spiritual.” We very rarely see these things as able to coexist, or at least we are very uncomfortable with the idea of it.
For example, while we can read the Old Testament and hear about God speaking to Moses through a burning bush, most of us would prefer that our bushes remain trimmed and quiet, not ablaze and speaking. And even if our bushes spoke to us, we would be more likely to assume that we were hallucinating, that we were either sick or dehydrated, in need of more rest, than we would be to assume that we are hearing from God Almighty.
This is what it means to be suffocating within the immanent frame. That our immediate reality is a closed system, cut off from participation in the transcendent here and now. Bread and wine are just bread and wine; any significance must be fabricated, “remembered” or “felt.” Things no longer are both earthly and heavenly. In the immanent frame, we all lose our sacramental imagination.
Enter Pokémon Go.
Using real world locations Pokémon Go leads users into to practice a crypto-sacramental way of inhabiting the world. Places can be both parks and Pokéstops. Gamers are able to practice keeping one foot squarely in the visible world while also looking beyond this world to see another one.
Now, I’m not saying that Pokémon Go is a gateway to the Kingdom of God, but I do think it has the capacity to form its users into being certain kinds of people, people who can imagine a world beyond our own, a world that cannot be seen but can nonetheless be experienced, touched in some way beyond the physical.
If turning on our phones and calling the local mall a “Pokégym” is possible, then it might be possible to grasp that the humble elements of bread and wine are also the very Body and Blood of Christ. If around every corner a Pikachu could be lurking, then it may be feasible to see a ragtag group of people as the very manifestation of God’s Kingdom.
Pokémon Go has filled the world with wonder again, and people now inhabit the world differently than they did two months ago. And while Pokémon Go may not be the goal of our journey toward God’s Kingdom, perhaps we can acknowledge it as a divine Pokéstop of sorts, where we are able to pick up some tools as we practice inclining our hearts toward the invisible God who became a human being in order to catch us all.
House Pokémon: Depositphotos
Mall Pokémon: Depositphotos
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.