Pokemon Go. By now most people would have heard of the name, even if it is just a hazy impression. You cannot help it. You see people transfixed to their smartphone screen all over the place, as if mesmerized. You read about it all the time in the papers and you hear about it all the time.
Far more than just a simple application game, it is a whole culture. And it is no longer confined to young children but also to working adults and even parents with teenage children. As Christians therefore, it is necessary for us to be cognizant of what Pokemon Go is and what it means to the church. Most importantly, it is essential for us to know how to deal with the phenomenon in a Biblical manner.
Just recently, in a life application class in KL Baptist Church, Rev John Kok took the topic heads-on. Pr John elucidated that there are 2 main mistakes that can be made when we tackle this issue. The first is that of carelessness; to play the game without considering what we are doing. The second is that of being paranoid; to reject something based on little or no information.
What is Pokemon Go? The term Pokemon is short for “pocket monster” and this describes the creatures used to play the game. In the Pokemon world, these monsters are actually various types of animals. Players must find and capture the creatures, train them, and then pit them against those of other players.
The churches have already had various responses to the game, some for while others are against. On the pro side, people who are favourable to the game suggest that one of its benefits is that it requires people to leave their homes, get some exercise and visit real places. Some point out that people are actually ending up inside churches in their quest to capture pokemon. From this, an evangelical opportunity is posited, to connect with and reach out to Pokemon Go players.
On the objection side, it has been pointed out that the game is a form of addiction, affecting people, and encouraging the philosophy of fighting. News reports have also shown that it can be dangerous when players are too caught up in the fantasy world, leading to accidents, robbery, rape, and even death. Many notices have been given out regarding awareness of risks when hunting for pokemon.
It has been reported in the newspapers that the game has been a cause of inconvenience, with many governmental offices and places of worship banning the game within their premises. People who are addicted to the game are focusing their time on their quest to capture pokemon rather than on their work. Some skip meals, and people have even gathered in large groups near residential areas from late night to early morning, causing disturbance to the surrounding residents. Of most concern are the security issues that come into the picture.
Addiction can also lead to spiritual hindrances in the form of idolatry. Pr John shared that while he does not go that far, there have also been concerns that the game is demonic in its representation with pokemon such as the Gastly, Jynx, Ekans, and the Charizard. Furthermore, some see roots of Eastern mysticism such as geomancy.
Progressing from these pros and cons, as we have established in the beginning, the best way to approach a phenomenon such as this is to scrutinise it in an objective manner. What does the Bible say about Pokemon Go? None of the main precepts of our faith such as the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Great Commission, and the Great Commandment has anything direct to say about it. Nevertheless, as Christians, our highest authority is still the Word of God.
When there is nothing to be found in Scripture concerning an object, there are still Biblical principles. This applies to such things as smoking and gambling. It applies the same with all objects. Examining the game through Biblical principles, we can ask the following questions.
Is the game illegal? While it is not illegal, Romans 13:1 enjoins us to obey authority where they have been established. Authority at working places, governmental offices, and places of worship that have banned the game from their premises therefore needs to be obeyed.
Does the game glorify God? Only in so much that it can be used to guide people’s appreciation of God’s creation in our natural world and its diversity. But this is not a direct collateral from the game itself.
Does it help us spiritually? 1 Corinthians 6:12 reminds us that while all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial.
Does it help us to be good stewards of our time? Can we manage our time responsibly enough not to land up in addiction?
Does it help us to be witnesses? Like the second question, only in so far as to how further conversation could be created towards sharing about God’s creativeness in His creation. But this is limited.
Pr John conveyed that these are questions we must all ask individually when we are considering whether we should take up Pokemon Go into our lifestyle. The question on whether to play or not to play is therefore a personal one. While Pr John believes that there are more drawbacks to the game than benefits, he also believes that a truly significant decision can only be made through a person’s own set of convictions and holding of principles.
If a person believes that the game is demonic, they should stay away from it. If it is affecting their health – whether emotionally, physically, or spiritually – they should also stay away from the game.
For those who are playing the game, Pr John suggests some guidelines. The first is to play it with caution and not to be carried away by it. Respect the privacy of places of worship, whether it is a church, a mosque, or a temple. Establish clear limits and practise self-discipline. Don’t play the game during your working hours and don’t skip your meals. Take care of your health. Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t play in isolation or in isolated places. Don’t trespass into places you are not allowed to enter. Above all, don’t let it affect you physically, spiritually or in your work or study.
Like all things of these sorts, whether it is beneficial or otherwise depends a lot on a person’s maturity, both as a person and spiritually. It also depends a whole lot on a person’s discernment. At the end of the day, if an object draws a person away from their responsibilities, their quiet time with God or their relationship with God and family, then perhaps it is time to reflect whether a change of direction is needed.
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NOTE: All pictures kindly provided through the help of KL Baptist Church.