Of Planks, Specks, and Pikachus

Pokemon Go is a thing. A HUGE thing. Forbes reports that the app has 7.5 million downloads and is bringing in $1.6M daily. That’s a lot. If this blog had 7.5 million hits, I could probably quit my day job.

I was a *very* active participant in the first wave of the Pokemon generation. I played the games, watched the show, bought the cards and toys. It was not cool. I took a lot of heat back then from my middle-school peers in the “men are men” culture of rural eastern Wyoming.

Funny, it seems that the advent of Go has showed that not too much has changed. Over the last few days, society has divided itself on the lines of “I love Pokemon and this game and can’t get enough” and “this is childish, stupid, and a waste of time”. I will henceforth in this article refer to these two groups as the yay-sayers and naysayers, and I will address them both, because I think the Pokemon Go craze brings up some interesting discussion on Christian liberty, and how we judge others. But first, story time.

My experience

Over the last weekend, I found myself being a bit sentimental and downloaded the app to see what it was about. I quickly began to realize something about Go that was not such an issue clear back in 1999. That is, since 1999, life happened. A LOT of it. Pokemon Go is a virtual reality, and to enjoy it to the fullest, you have to live it–that is, walk around, visit places, and interact with people. Now, these things are not necessarily bad, and it seems that this game is causing lots of these things. But I quickly began to see that I no longer live in a reality where I can dedicate that time and effort to a video game. See, I was doing other stuff this last weekend, too. I was on the road visiting my fiance. We babysitted her niece for a few hours on Saturday. During my drive, I listened to audio of this book. Saturday evening, I spent some quality time with my fiance and future in-laws. On Sunday, we attended worship. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I wrote a piece attempting to redirect some of the recent societal angst to the gospel. Since I got home, I’ve been preparing to teach a study on the doctrine of the Trinity. There’s just not a lot of time left in my world for catching Pocket Monsters. So I have since deleted the app.

To the Yay-Sayers

So I challenge you, Go player, is playing this game the highest and best use of your time? Is Go a means to spend time with people you love, to minister to others, and to grow in Christian maturity? Or is it the exact opposite. I, for one, have no moral quandary with video gaming. I used to do it a lot, and still do occasionally. But I know from my childhood and college years, in which I played for hours a day, that 1) that stuff is addicting and 2) sometimes it can skew priorities.

A verse that comes to mind is from Paul’s superb discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13. He uses a string of illustrations about the eternity of God’s love, and we now know God in part, but will know him fully in the age to come. One of the examples he uses is in verse 11:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

What he is saying here isn’t the point; Paul is making one larger. Still, that Paul is recounting this should at least cause us to stop and think, as there are few better examples of faithfulness and godliness than the apostle Paul. To be perfectly honest, when I downloaded and started playing Pokemon Go, this verse started ringing in my mind. If “childish ways” are considered to be something negative, would playing this (or other video games) be included? Does doing this represent a skewing of priorities?

Maybe.

I’m not going to provide a hard, fast answer, because I don’t know every situation. There is no direct scriptural prohibition that would render playing Pokemon Go sinful. It is a matter of Christian liberty.

In addition to the maturity question, as with all matters of Christian liberty, the matters must be subjected to the following questions:

  • Are you breaking the law? (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) As Christians, we are called to uphold the law, so long as doing so does not violate anything God has commanded. Are you playing while driving? Are you trespassing on private property in your quest to “catch ’em all”? If so, a change in behavior is warranted.
  • Are you addicted? (1 Corinthians 6:12) Are you “mastered” by your gaming habit? Must your life priorities be ordered around it? Can you stop at any time and not feel like you are missing anything?
  • Are you neglecting other responsibilities? (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 5:22-6:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Colossians 3:23-25) The proper Christian view of priorities is God, spouse, children, other family, work, everything else. Gaming falls in the “everything else” category. If any of the higher priorities  (spiritual disciplines, time with family, job performance) are slipping because of gaming, it must go.
  • Are you causing others to stumble? (1 Corinthians 8:11-13) Is your gaming habit causing any of the above-described problems for anyone else? Do you play with others who are becoming addicted, are neglecting higher priorities, etc.?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it would seem wise to reconsider your Pokemon Go habit.

To the Naysayers

People who don’t like Pokemon are quick to point out any wrong or potential wrong in others who partake. I get it, it’s not “cool”. It’s one of those weird, geeky things. But, just because you dislike something does not mean it is wrong or sinful.

I also want to bring to your attention a verse from Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:3-5)

It’s easy to point out the flaws in other people and be indifferent to our own. Sure, you don’t like Pokemon Go, and think that anyone wanting to play it is absurd. But you, too, have things that you do in your leisure time – social media, outdoor activities, sports, alcohol, reading blogs to substantiate your opinions, and any number of other things. As with video gaming, these fall into the realm of Christian liberty, which means they are acceptable in moderation but dangerous in excess or when misused. Can you run your hobbies through the filter of the above four questions (and the scripture I cited to support them) and find them to be satisfactory?

I think, if we were honest, we all have areas of our lives where priorities are askew and the principles of Christian liberty are violated. Maybe it’s Pokemon Go, maybe it’s something else. We need to honestly examine ourselves, and not be hypocrites in how we examine others. ♦

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS ARE FROM THE ESV® BIBLE (THE HOLY BIBLE, ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION®), COPYRIGHT © 2001 BY CROSSWAY, A PUBLISHING MINISTRY OF GOOD NEWS PUBLISHERS. USED BY PERMISSION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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