Pokémon, Pharisees, and the Importance of Play

Pokémon GO hit smartphones just over a week ago and it’s already an international phenomenon. […]

Eric Dorman / 7.15.16

old games

Pokémon GO hit smartphones just over a week ago and it’s already an international phenomenon. In the American market, the game reached No. 1 on the downloads chart in just 13 hours, and according to some vendors, is pulling in $2 million a day. It is already more popular than Tinder and Instagram, and it’s nearly out in front of Twitter. By almost all projections, it’s going to be the most successful app in app history.

The media noticed, of course. Apparently, the game is both brilliant and the most dangerous game in the world. There was even an interesting piece on how it could be a catalyst for threats to black lives in some concrete ways.

The non-media response has been overwhelming, too. Scroll through your Facebook and Twitter feeds and you’ll find three basic responses to the game. Group 1 thinks that the game is amazing and can’t believe how much they’ve walked in the past week. Group 2 doesn’t really know what’s going on.

And then there’s group 3. The naysayers. The contrarians. Not the folks with legitimate concerns about safety or with technical critiques of the game’s mechanics. But the kind of people who discovered that Santa wasn’t real when they were five and just had to tell everyone else in their kindergarten class.

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Life at Play – Jamin Warren from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Some of them think that the game signals the end of meaningful, face-to-face relationships (which they’ve said about everything since our gracious and loving God invented computers). Some just think the game is dumb, and they’re upset that people are enjoying it. Others think their own interests are so far superior that they just can’t be bothered.

The Poképharisees embody an insidious law. Whether it’s from Christians who don’t think we’re spending enough time evangelizing or reading our bibles or praying, or from neighbors who think we aren’t sophisticated enough in our tastes and hobbies, it hits us. It all adds up to one, simple allegation: “Thou art not using thy time as wisely as I am using mine.”

Obviously, everyone has vices. And true, we shouldn’t bury ourselves in video games (or books, or opera, or parenthood, or – dare we even think it – our bibles) to the exclusion of our neighbors. But that doesn’t mean we can’t play. Real, unadulterated, foolish play. The kind where we have nothing else on our mind.

lots of pokemon 2

The law that says, “We must use our time this way,” is the same one that says we must be taken seriously. The truth is that we aren’t worth taking seriously. We’re sinful, neurotic creatures who can’t seem to make it through a day without simultaneously beating and building ourselves up.

But the gospel says that God loves that which cannot be taken seriously. He loves and welcomes the jester. The clown. The fool. And that frees us up to throw away our inhibitions and celebrate. Because of God’s reckless grace, we’re free to party.

Play is a great gift from God. It’s one of the things that God has given us to enjoy in the penultimate world. It’s a brief respite from concern, confusion, and anxiety. Momentary relief from the weight of the law. You can throw caution right out and dive head-first into foolishness.

So fight for your life: play. Play complicated games that require strategy and skill. Play easy games that make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Play games that take you out of your comfort zone. Invite others to play with you. Laugh with friends. Have some drinks and dance around. Goof off when you should be paying attention.

God is with you.

Go forth, and catch ‘em all.