Like millions of other people, I downloaded Pokemon Go onto my phone this week. I did it partly because I was interested in how technology was being used, partly because I work with young people and feel it is important for me to know their cultural language, and partly because–to be honest–it looked kind of fun. And, I admit, it is. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, or have heard of Pokemon but don’t know anything about it, here is a good primer. If you don’t feel like clicking, the game is an augmented reality game, based on a decades old children’s card collection game. It’s essentially a global virtual scavenger hunt, in which you find collectable creatures in real places through your phone, and make them stronger through training and fighting with other virtual creatures. Anyone that has heard of this new craze seems to have an opinion on it.
There have been articles on how houses of worship, like synagogues, mosques, and churches, have been designated as poke-stops or gyms–and the essential meaning of that (especially with a description being given of their historical significance, which begs the question of the balance in religion between history and relevance), not to mention how many houses of worship are utilizing this opportunity; articles questioning the safety of the game, both in terms of people not paying attention to where they are walking, in terms of people being theoretically lured into dangerous situations, and in terms of the information that might be digitally shared; pieces about how wonderful it is that people are getting outside, walking, and interacting with each other towards shared goals; much written about how some people are inappropriate in the places that they play and the way they behave; and many opinions shared about the games and its relative place in modern society.
There are those that this it is wonderful, and those that think it is dangerous and indicative of everything that is wrong in society.
What has struck me has been the number of people that have described it in negative terms, not because of its theoretical danger, but because they don’t see it as having a purpose. I saw one comment on the facebook post of a friend in which the person said, quite bluntly, “Pokemon is for idiots.” And that’s where I take issue. Play the game or don’t play the game, but why be judgmental over the choices of others to engage in this particular activity or not. And, more importantly, when did we, as a culture, lose the importance of fun and play?
Children instinctively know how to play. It’s one of the first things we do. But, as we grow older, play becomes unacceptable. And I think that’s sad. Play is good. Play is important. Fun is a good thing, no matter your age. I think this game and its popularity is a good reminder of that–it’s a vehicle through which people of a variety of ages are remembering how to play a game. And I think that’s a good thing.
There is even evidence that playing this game is good for your mental health. And that it can help those who often have trouble socializing to be engaged and social. But even without that, isn’t it enough that people are enjoying this game?
We need to stop judging people for finding enjoyment in different ways. Breaks are important (see: Shabbat) and fun is good for us. We need to remember the glee that we found in childhood through play and recognize that such happiness can be found when we are adults as well. This is not shameful. We should not feel shame for playing this game. We should not shame others for enjoying this game, or any game (that doesn’t harm others) for that matter. And if we don’t like it, that’s ok too–but then find other ways to play and have fun. And don’t yuck someone else’s yum.
Let’s bring some fun back into the world. Looking around the world these days, I think that there is little question that we need it.