I remember the first time I heard of Pokémon. I was 13 years old and I got a VHS tape in the mail from Nintendo. They were advertising a new game they planned to launch soon. It involved these little animal-like creatures that you could catch, train, trade, and battle. They were even going to have a TV show to go along with it, which would follow Ash and his Pokémon journey to “catch ’em all.”
And for the last 20 years, Pokémon have been a thing — a very popular thing! Through the years, I’ve only owned three of main series games for Game Boy, DS, and 3DS. I know so many others who have each game and have caught all the Pokémon.
Until recently, the only way to play was on a dedicated Nintendo console. Last week, though, Niantic launched Pokémon GO in partnership with The Pokémon Company and Nintendo. The basic premise is that you can now catch Pokémon using your iPhone or Android smartphone. The app uses the GPS in your device to pinpoint your location and populate your world with Charmander, Caterpie, Weedle, and more. Once you realize you’ve got a Pokémon nearby, you tap on it and throw a Pokéball at it in effort to catch it.
Many of you know I also write for a Nintendo blog, so right now, you’re probably wondering why I’m not writing this over there instead of my ministry blog. Well, with all the popularity of Pokémon GO, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on how it could be used in your ministry. Also, I wanted to address some concerns parents might have. So, here are a few quick positives and negatives.
First the positive elements…
It’s free to play. Unlike the main series Pokémon games, this one is free and you can play it on a device you most likely have already. This means there are a lot more potential players. Along with that, the entry level is quite low, because it’s designed for anyone to jump in, no matter their gaming abilities. There are some in-app purchases available, but they are not required. They only exist for those who want to buy them.
There have already been numerous reports about how Pokémon GO has helped people make connections with others. Many people who struggle with depression and anxiety are saying this game has helped them feel more comfortable about getting out and interacting with others.
In the crowds, there is a natural connection point around the game. I’ve had conversations with random strangers that normally would have been awkward, just because it’s easy to talk about the game. Through those interactions, I’m able to represent Jesus and speak love and life into them.
Most churches are Pokéstops within the game. This means there is potential for random people to stop by your church throughout the day to check in and collect Pokéballs, eggs, and more. I’ve already heard of some churches being proactive and providing things for the want-to-be Pokémon masters. Others are purchasing lures to attract people to come by even more often. Once the crowd starts accumulating, as I said earlier, interaction will naturally take place. In fact, if your church has done something really cool, I’d love to hear about it!
Of course, though, there are some potential negatives…
NOT COMPLETELY FREE
Remember when I said it was mostly free with in-app purchases? Yeah, you need to be careful with that — especially parents. I imagine kids would love to spend all your hard-earned cash on Pokécoins! Just make sure you take standard precautions as you do with other games with in-app purchases.
Similarly, as stated earlier, this game is bringing people together. While that can be incredibly positive, there is always the negative side. Adults can make their own decisions on who they interact with and who they avoid, but parents should especially be attentive to this. I highly recommend not allowing your young children to play alone outside your house. They could easily get distracted and wander into a place they should not be or talk to a stranger who is not so nice. But here’s the positive side, your kids will probably love going on Pokémon searches with you, so download it on your own device and go together!
Also, make sure you and your kids don’t play and drive! Using a car is a great way to play, but be sure the one playing is never the driver!
There have been reports about the app requiring full access to your Google account, too. This has now been confirmed untrue. While it did show it needed full access, Niantic and Google have assured us this is not the case. It is simply a bug that will be fixed in a future update. So, all your data is safe — meaning this isn’t really a con anymore…
Ok, since that last one doesn’t count, here’s a quick one: This game will drain your battery! Sure, it makes sense as it uses your GPS and can use your camera — both battery draining features. However, you’ll most likely be playing a lot outside with your screen at or near maximum brightness, which will also suck the life out of your battery. So, just be prepared for long Pokémon journeys by bringing an extra battery.
Now, I’d love to hear from you about ways you have used or plan to use Pokémon GO in your ministry. I plan on writing another blog post soon with a list of ideas, but until then, please share yours in the comments!