Churches swept up in Pokemon Go craze

Since its release in the United States on July 6, Pokemon Go has quickly become a cultural phenomenon.

In the first week, the mobile game attracted nearly 21 million users, according to data from Survey Monkey, making it the most popular app in US history.

As a result, the nature of the game is driving swarms of players to unsuspecting churches, businesses and other landmarks. But as it grows in popularity, priests, youth groups and others are quickly finding opportunities to evangelise young people.

Pokemon Go uses augmented reality, a real-world environment that incorporates computer-generated elements, such as GPS data, sound and video. Users move around in the real world as they collect tiny virtual creatures called Pokemon — short for pocket monsters. The mobile app is based on the popular franchise that began with several Nintendo games in the 1990s.

Churches, businesses and other landmarks have been designated as PokeStops, where users collect resources needed to catch Pokemon; and Gyms, where competitions are held among the creatures.

Assumption Church in south St Louis County began noticing an influx of visitors to the property on July 11.

“On Monday night, we couldn’t figure out why all these people were on our property,” pastor Fr Thomas Keller told the St Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. “We noticed people walking up, or in their car slowing down. By Tuesday, we figured out we had all these Pokemon stops. I talked to a nice couple pushing a baby carriage who explained everything to me.”

The game especially has been attractive to young adults who grew up on Pokemon in the 1990s. Assumption’s associate pastor Fr David Miloscia, 29, was into Pokemon from the eighth grade to his sophomore year in high school. He played the new game with a group of five teenagers who visited the parish July 14 on their quest to catch more characters.

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