Confession: I feel extravagant when I buy a box of brand-name Cheez-Its.
Blame it on genetics. I come from a long line of thrifty (not cheap) ancestors. This means that when I’m thinking about making a purchase, I have a hard time spending money unless I absolutely need it. (“New shoes? These are fine. I can color over the scuff marks with a Sharpie and make them last another year.”)
Which is why I had a hard time deciding to buy this awesome-but-overpriced-and-completely-impractical pin that references my favorite Pixar character.
I eventually did because my twin sister Erika, also a recipient of these thrifty genes, said something interesting: “I figure, if something brings me tiny bits of joy and happiness whenever I see it, it was worth the cost even if it serves no practical purpose whatsoever.”
For context: we are not talking about anything extravagant here, people, nor anything super-spiritual. When she made this statement, my sister was referring to her Batman-themed dress and Darth Vader antennae topper. (I am not joking.)
So what does that have to do with Pokémon Go?
I also have a hard time spending my time on things that don’t seem practical. My knee-jerk reaction is to say “Pokémon Go is terrible and possibly sinful. Go read a book.”
But I think there’s some wisdom in Erika’s comment: not everything that seems pointless is automatically bad.
The church has historically not been awesome at applying this concept. (Shout out to the Puritans who would only allow theater if it was a religious pageant and the Christian camp counselors who tried to give every group game a deep spiritual meaning. “This ball represents Satan’s fiery arrows of temptation…” No. It’s dodgeball. Just let us pummel the living daylights out of each other.)
Good art brings glory to God. Laughter brings glory to God. You can do something that has no objective value—blowing bubbles, creating Mad Libs, trying to identify different flavors of jelly beans while blindfolded—to the glory of God.
Then again, most people who are concerned about “mindless fun” realize that screen time can be addicting, and it often isolates us from other people and world around us. We have so little time on earth, the argument goes. Why waste it on something like this?
So…that’s trickier. I’ve heard the argument in response that most entertainment isn’t inherently good or bad, it just matters how you use it.
This is kind of true…and also kind of not.
So, say we’re just talking about “clean” entertainment, not porn flicks, gladiatorial games, or even questionable R-rated movies. Even then, every entertainment has a bias.
Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example. Board games are biased toward time spent interacting with other people. That’s what they’re designed to do, and that is a good goal. They’re also biased toward competition, which has both a good and bad side to it, and some games lean more toward that than others.
You can have miserable and morally ambiguous afternoon playing Risk while arguing, gloating, backstabbing, and generally losing friends. Or you can have a delightful and fun afternoon playing Pictionary and getting to know your friends a little better.
It’s not that Risk is inherently bad and Pictionary is inherently good (You could play Risk with perfect diplomacy and sportsmanship or brutally mock the bad artists in Pictionary). It’s just that they are biased in different ways. They have different challenges, and if you’re aware of them going in, you’re much more likely to play them responsibly.
Pokémon Go also has biases, and since I don’t play, I don’t know all of them. But from I hear, it’s biased toward physical activity (usually seen as a positive thing), increased time spent on a phone (usually seen as a negative thing), a mix of the real world and the digital world (both pluses and minuses here—most complaints are that people are physically present at cool locations but not actually interacting), and lots of adorable animal-like creatures.
Basically, entertainment, including Pokémon Go, is not wrong, but it has a lot of potential to go wrong because we typically create idols from things we love…and most of us love to have fun.
So, if you play Pokémon Go…know your limits and get someone to hold you to them. Don’t become addicted to your screen, and don’t choose it over time with other people. If you notice you’re getting your feelings of validation and sense of purpose from a digital game…it’s time to reevaluate. (This from a person who, a few years ago, obsessively watched blog stats for the same reason.) If you aren’t taking time to be still and be present in the world around you, schedule it in. Plan media fasts. Make sure nothing trivial crowds out your time with God or your family.
In fact, read over that paragraph again and substitute whatever it is that consumes most of your entertainment time. (For me, it’s checking Facebook.) You can be addicted to watching a T.V. show. You can get your sense of validation from how well you play chess. You can put playing a musical instrument before your time with God.
Idolatry is easier than we think. It’s not always in the major choices we make, but in the little disordered priorities, the tiny compromises, the justifications and procrastinations that clutter our everyday lives.
Worship means doing all things to the glory of God, including what you do for fun, but more importantly, it means not making what you do for fun into God.