7-27-16 - Pokemon GO logo

One of the stranger kinks in turbulent 2016 is the Pokémon Go plague sweeping the known universe. Fully grown humans meandering about in stupefied, electronic bliss is eerie enough, but no one knows where this might end. Here’s hoping it’s just a fad.

Developers of the interactive augmented-reality game are Niantic (Son of Google), Nintendo and the Pokémon Company; and if nothing else, they have been absolutely brilliant with marketing and promotion. If an entity wanted to wreak havoc and distract the masses with no real purpose, this works. It’s a digital takeover of a good portion of the world and much more effective than Pearl Harbor (40 million as of last count downloaded or playing) after only a few weeks.

Pokémon Go invades all spheres of life from public toilets to historical places, markets, churches and homes. Using existing electronic data bases, it is also a mega-trial of augmented reality as it interacts with real life. Judging from the numbers, many Americans aren’t too thrilled with their existence. If hybrid Japanese cartoons obscuring the face of your telephone is the height of your day, you have my sympathy.

Where’s the ART?

Unlike most contemporary video games, Pokémon Go is missing any impressive art. The minimalism and lack of visual interest is astonishing. That didn’t stop Virginia Heffernan from waxing ecstatic over the joys of Poké and its high cultural potential. “It is the work of traditional artists who set out to mystify, engage and change the people who play it,” she claimed in an op-ed piece in the LA Times. Huh? This alternative reality stuff is really working with Heffernan anyway.

Apparently Google logo-maker Dennis Hwang (creator of some Pokémon Go characters), at some point in his life, may have taken a class is in late Renaissance masters or something. Classical artists? Heffernan waxes worse and even a bit sinister: “On some deep level you’ve been somehow waiting for this experience your whole life, maybe even training for it in your dreams.” If Nintendo/ Google isn’t paying her, they should be.

Pursuing the elusive “Charmander” or “Rattata” is truly pulling hordes of people into museums, where characters seem to appear. Ironically, the fixated visitors barely cast a glance at any art as they stampede through to digital paradise, to museum employees’ dismay.

From hyperallergic.com: Pokémon Go screens at Metropolitan Museum of Art/photos @jeanettehayes/Instagram and @museummammy/Twitter)

From hyperallergic.com: Pokémon Go screens at Metropolitan Museum of Art/
photos @jeanettehayes/Instagram and @museummammy/Twitter)

Stops include New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A grand piece by French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, “Ugolino and His Sons,” is designated a “Pokéstop” there. Game creators call this “Dante’s Inferno” since the group appears in the “Divine Comedy” as a tragic family starved to death in the 13th century. The Art Institute of Chicago is teeming with 14 of the little dickens as well.

Not political?

With the entire nation politic-weary, this may look like a welcome distraction to many. At least that’s the line, and indeed Niantic (creator of Pokémon Go) may have no political end in mind. Perhaps. Yet the global scale and the crowd-summoning power which the game induces have even social-media experts and techies in wonderment at the possibilities – and the company founder’s likely background with the CIA.

At the time of Niantic Lab’s sale to Google, its CEO/founder was John Hanke, who still runs the show. Although Hanke doesn’t appear to be an engineer, artist or computer expert, he does have a background in foreign affairs and intelligence. Later, he helped create “massively multiplayer online games” (MMOG or MMO) which support large numbers of simultaneous players, or a “persistent open world.” At Google, Hanke helped devise their StreetView and Maps, all integral to the Pokémon Go experience.

But before this gig, Hanke co-founded “Keyhole” which was funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). This agency exists to collect and analyze geospatial intelligence, receiving guidance and oversight from DOD, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Congress. In its publication “Pathfinder” NGA admits it is openly “partnering with Silicon Valley” in “radar, automation, geophysics, spectral, environment & culture, geospatial-cyber and anticipatory analytics.”

Screen shot of what you see on phone @ The Roman parish of St. Peter the Apostle – Pokéstop

Screen shot of what you see on phone @ The Roman parish of St. Peter the Apostle – Pokéstop

Russian officials seem to loathe the app, claiming it causes “possible harmful psychological effects.” Recently a state-run report was aired there, warning that people could be jailed for playing Pokémon Go.

It makes the Muslims nervous though, which is always a plus. Saudi Arabia is working on its second or third Pokémon-related Fatwa. Indonesia considers the game a security threat. From Cairo comes this pronouncement: Pokémon Go is a “harmful mania” as well as an “espionage tool.” Hmmmmm.

Pokémon is religious – who knew?

Among the throngs of tourists in St. Peter’s Square are hundreds of young pilgrims. Sadly, they are not searching their souls but on a quest for the elusive “Arceus” or “god” of the Pokémon empire.” Either rumor or clues bring players here in the belief that Arceus is hidden in the maze of buildings. They claim the presence of many “Ingress portals” at the Vatican, making it likely there are objects appearing to be inside. Searchers claim you can find Pokémon in fountains or at the window where Pope Francis appears on Sundays.

The character Arceus and the Vatican

The character Arceus and the Vatican

New to the pantheon of gods (2009) “The Original One,” Arceus is purported to have created the “entire Pokémon universe” using its 1000 arms. He still had a “hatch time” like the rest of them and has weight (320 kg) and height (about 10 feet). I also doubt Niantic is paying him royalties for the Pokémon creation.

Video from St. Peter’s Square, Rome: On the hunt

“I was looking for a Pokémon” explained one of St. Peter’s hopefuls. “It said it was a legendary one, so I came here looking for that Pokémon. But I think it’s difficult to find it, he said [for] me to look in the Holy Door, so now I’m looking for my friend.”

7-27-16 - bishop-w-Pokemon

When “Pokémon: The First Movie” came out in 2000, parent’s biggest fears were obsession over (physical) card collecting and bad theology. The Vatican still gave its blessing to the movement as being “full of inventive imagination.” What will it do now? So far they haven’t ignored this trend and respond in humor for the most part so. One bishop tweeted photos of himself with a photoshopped Pokémon catch.

But Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay had a better suggestion on his Twitter page. “You might never find a Pikachu, but I promise you this – Search for Jesus, and you’ll find Him every time. Let #PokemonGO. Go #FindGOD.”

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