With all this excitement about Pokémon Go, I decided I had to investigate myself. The novices had already done “due diligence” and checked out our retreat house where they are cooking this week to see if there were any wild Pokémon there. The Blessed Mother statue in the front of the retreat house is a Poké Stop. My first thought was to check out our Motherhouse grounds to see if we should be expecting extra visitors playing Pokémon Go, holding up their phones and walking without looking where they were going. I did catch five Pokémon in the Motherhouse, but thankfully the Poké Stop in the neighborhood is across the street in the park.
I wanted to download and investigate the virtual reality game, however, for another reason. As an apostle of communications, I often observe myself using media in order to reflect on its potential spiritual impact on people. So after only half an hour chasing wild Pokémon yesterday, I entered the chapel early this morning to pray and this is what I experienced.
Boring. Dark. Still. Those are rather drastic words from a nun with a lifetime of praying under my belt. They scared me too. My mind kept on being pulled off to the images on my iPhone screen. It wasn’t the same thing as a distraction. It wasn’t exactly the screen. It was the lure of virtual reality where everything was clean, artificial, bright, with cute little critters jumping out here and there. While I was playing yesterday I was watching myself. I felt excited, bright, eager, curious, almost out of my body, elevated, euphoric. It was fun. It was out of this world…more simple…like Saturday morning cartoons where real-life values and struggles were played out by cartoon characters without real-life consequences. It was bright and clean, not marred with the terrorism of the previous day in Nice, France or Dallas, TX.
I pulled myself back to the chapel with the clicking of the minute hand on the clock, the slow passage of time, nowhere to run, nothing exciting to look for. What had once been my favorite place to be, was suddenly second rate to virtual reality. I looked for something to anchor me “here.” I focused on the crucifix that hung from the altar, yet these two worlds were fighting for my attention. Yesterday I read an article in which a therapist was hailing the wonders of Pokémon Go because suddenly his depressed clients were up and out of bed. They were happy as they met new people and suddenly had something to talk about. Hmmm. Life isn’t a shiny virtual reality game. I was called out to help a sister down the lift into chapel. Yes. Here was reality. I had to wait for the lift. Wait for her. This anchored me into the here and the now. Charity.
I am not one for throwing media out. Moderation yes. Perhaps even ascetcism. Definitely an intentional use that is in balance with the rest of life and in service to my relationship with Christ. My little experiment has helped me raise the question: How do we “adjust” our spirit to live simultaneously in two worlds–the virtual world and the real? Is the real world as “exciting” as the virtual world in Pokémon Go? What about helping another, carrying out extra duties while others take off, helping an elderly parent or a child tie his shoes or a teenager deal with her break-up…will any of this make us feel that same euphoria that one feels when playing Pokémon Go? Will those who have found liberation from depression in this game be able to adjust to a life that is touched with tragedy and stretched with stress, and yet beautiful all the same? And–
is real life as exciting as catching Pokémon?
For the first time, listening to the readings at Mass this morning, praying the psalms at morning prayer, I didn’t hear the words. I saw them. They were three-dimensional, actions, history, people, stories, lives…. They did not create the euphoria brought about by a virtual reality game. But excitingly they drew me into their story as strongly as Pokémon Go had, and these real people in the readings, in all their wildness and beauty, people who are a part of my history, or salvation history, jumped off the page.
This, after 30 minutes of Pokémon Go has been my gift. I wouldn’t exactly call Pokémon Go a spiritual teacher, but if we are open, if we are connected to our deepest selves, God can use everything to bring about his purposes.
So if you play, or you watch your children play Pokémon Go, be observant. Watch what is happening in your spirit, psyche, emotions, mind. Where is your technology taking you? It is up to you if it leads to a blessed end.