September - October 2016

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech

Remember when Blackberry phones were all the rage? Otherwise sane adults were out in public, walking around, heads down, tapping on their phones and walking into things. Well, those days are back, only this time the furious finger fixation is linked to a popular smartphone app, and the tappers may or may not be business people. The Pokemon Go siren song is calling people from every demographic to “Catch ‘Em All.”

The word Pokemon actually means “pocket monster.” The game first appeared in 1995, and it has taken many forms over the years. But the basic goal is to capture cute cartoonish creatures, train them, and then use them to battle with other players or the computer. What is different this time is the partnership with a company called Ninantic. When Ninantic was a part of Google, they made a game that involved joining one of two global teams and engaging in friendly battles for territory. What made it unique was you had to walk around in the real world to play the game. Ninantic left Google in 2015 and began collaborating with the Pokemon Company (which Nintendo is part owner of) on a game that combines the Pokemon story and geographic game play. The result is Pokemon Go, which was released this past July.

To play the game, you need to get off of that couch, walk around your neighborhood, and collect Pokemon and their accessories (they only eat candy, a lucrative opportunity for a Pokedentist, I think). You’ll find them at local landmarks, like fountains, plaques honoring history and persons of note, churches, and sports venues. You can even capture Pokemon critters at the Nazarene Global Ministry Center.

You can even capture Pokemon critters at the Nazarene Global Ministry Center.

Because of this, you may have noticed new faces in your neighborhood or at your church. Some congregations are using this as an opportunity to engage their community by dropping a “lure” on a Pokemon “stop.” Technically the lure is to attract the little creatures, but in my experience, the lure draws people as well. I saw one church with a sign that read, “Pokemon on the Outside, Jesus on the Inside.”

The social aspect of the game is intriguing. After playing a bit, you choose to join one of three global teams: Team Instinct – Yellow; Team Mystic – Blue; or Team Valor – Red. As you walk around playing the game, it is common to interact with other players with conversations about which team they are on and give a friendly jeer or cheer based on their reply. Having chosen Team Valor, my son and son-in-law saw three lured Pokemon stops a block from our vacation cabin. This was irresistible, so, at 10:30 at night, we walked to the stop. There, we found a dozen people standing around capturing virtual monsters. As we joined them in that friendly circle, we shared a bit of our stories. A few were hardcore gamers who likely had not left their parents’ basements in years. These were the ones squinting at the moonlight. Many were fellow vacationers, mostly middle-schoolers and teens. But, there was one couple on their honeymoon! It was a fun gathering. A skateboarder was passing by, and we told him what was going on, so he stopped to join in.

For my son’s birthday, our whole family and a couple of his friends went Pokemon hunting. In Kansas City the place to go is the Country Club Plaza (commonly known as "The Plaza"). It is dense with stops. So on a Saturday night, we piled into the Pilot and headed to midtown Kansas City. When we entered the area, “oohs” and “aahs” signaled the heightened activity of our surroundings on the Poke maps. As the designated driver, my eyes were on the road, but I was surprised by how many were searching for the virtual creatures. The sidewalks and fountains were thick with people—eyes plastered to their phones. My daughter asked, “Is this real?” Actually, it looked like we had dropped onto the set of a sci-fi movie. Masses of people walked together as one, mesmerized by the magical devices in their hands. We parked and walked around, no one seemed to mind if we bumped into them, because they were all doing the same thing. I was hopeful that someone at the head of the group was paying attention to traffic lights.

Certain creatures can only be obtained near certain geographic features, like rivers or oceans, but, with a bit of effort, you can find eggs which will hatch into these more unusual monsters. To do this, you put them in a virtual incubator and then walk a prescribed number of kilometers.

The game can’t be all bad. It has my son using the metric system and looking forward to going for walks! And, it’s hilarious to hear my 20-something friend talk about his egg hatching as we walk to lunch.

So those are the basics. As with any new technology, there are good and not so good stories associated with Pokemon Go. Ignoring their surroundings, a couple of friends walked off a cliff. Fortunately, they landed on a sand dune and received only minor injuries.

But on the Plaza that night, I saw every age, race, and creed gathering for a little fun, engaging each other and swapping stories. My daughter even encountered a high school friend she had not seen in years.

Versions are available for both Apple and Android. It is a bit of a battery drainer, since it uses GPS location features, and it can be somewhat addictive. I encourage you to try it, but be sure to pay attention to your surroundings, and never play the game while driving.

One thing’s for sure, Pokemon Go will get you off the couch and moving. And, who knows? You may make new friends or reconnect with old ones.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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