By Jeff Dixon
If you’ve been out and about during the last week you might have noticed an increased number of young adults wandering local parks and other places playing something called Pokemon Go. What you might not know is that this mobile game is actually helping young adults get exercise, explore their hometown and maybe lead a few of them to church.
Pokemon started out as a Nintendo video game two decades ago. It centered around players, or trainers, catching Pokemon, or pocket monsters, in order to battle other trainers. Last year Nintendo teamed up with mobile game developer Niantic to create Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is partly built around Ingress, a Niantic game that turned unique landmarks in the player’s town into portals that were controlled by one of two teams. Players could even add landmarks by snapping a photo and inputting their GPS coordinates into the app, creating new portals for other players.
The idea behind the game was to get players out of the house and take them to interesting places in their towns they might not have seen otherwise. And while it developed a strong following, Pokemon Go has fulfilled the dream of Ingress.
In a matter of days, it became one of the top five most downloaded mobile games of all time, prompting players to visit historical markers, statues, fountains and any other unique landmarks their city has to offer.
Some landmarks are called Pokestops, where players can check in and receive items for the game, while some landmarks are Gyms, where players can battle other teams for control of the area.
Sharon Whitman, volunteer youth director at Our Lady of Lourdes, Vidor, saw an opportunity to evangelize when she heard about the game.
“Some of the youth and I set up a table with water and rosaries for folks. This is just so wonderful. Usually when you evangelize you have to leave your church but with this game they’re coming to us,” Whitman said.
She’s also noticed that the kids and young adults playing the game are meeting new people and making friends.
“I see these kids and parents making friends so easily. They just ask each other which team color are you and the conversation takes off. It’s great to see something so positive bringing people together like this,” Whitman said.
Jonathan Reyes, a recent transplant from Baytown, found St. Jude Thaddeus, Beaumont, a few blocks from his house.
“When I moved here I avoided Gladys because of the school zone and the traffic so I had no idea St. Jude was even here until the game showed me. I walked over here yesterday for the first time and a guy chatted with me and gave me a bulletin,” Reyes said.
Reyes said once he finds time with his busy work schedule he’s going to be attending a few of the upcoming events at St. Jude.
Even non-Catholics are finding that the gyms and Pokestops at Catholic parishes are extremely welcoming.
“I’ve been exploring all over Mid-County and I can tell you that the folks at the Catholic Churches have been the friendliest I’ve met so far. I went to Queen of Vietnam in Port Arthur for the first time and not only was it beautiful but I met a few members of the youth group there are they were awesome,” Tucker Stegman, a Nederland Pokemon trainer, said.
Stegman says he’s going to keep visiting parishes in Southeast Texas, and even though he was raised Baptist, his experiences lately have made him curious about Catholicism.
“I’ve met so many people going around to different churches. Not all of them were Catholic but everyone I’ve met has been really fun to talk to. I didn’t know there were this many Catholic Churches here until this game came out and I can’t wait to visit more,” Stegman said.
Landmarks sites were determined by the game’s creators and did not require the permission of officials at the landmark sites. If a parish or another entity is uncomfortable with being a gym or a stop they can submit a request on the Pokemon Go support website to be removed. https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com/hc/en-us