By Junno Arocho Esteves
ROME — Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game based on the popular animated cartoon, has swept across the United States and has made it here to Italy.
The most coveted Pokestop in Vatican City, however, is the least accessible one: the window of the papal apartment where Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus address.
Using a mobile phone’s GPS and camera, players can catch and train virtual Pokemon as well as battle with other players at designated areas called Pokegyms.
As players walk around, they can reach designated areas in the maps called Pokestops where they can pick items, such as Pokeballs, unhatched Pokemon eggs, and other goodies.
Given my schedule, I’m not one to indulge in mobile games as often as I’d like, and maybe it’s for the better since I get hooked so easily. But after seeing all the fuss online, I decided to give it try. And yes, I got hooked.
I found myself walking aimlessly through the streets of Rome stopping every so often at a Pokestop or trying to catch a rogue Pokemon for my collection.
A walk from the office to St. Peter’s Square takes no more than 2 minutes. With Pokemon Go, it took me about 5 minutes, often times bumping into tourists because I was staring at my phone.
Looking around the square, almost every tourist had a phone; I was looking for any novice Pokemon masters like myself looking for goodies at one of the many Pokestops in St. Peter’s.
However, going around, discreetly looking at other people’s phones, I noticed they were either texting, snapping selfies in front of the basilica or recording videos of their children scurrying across the square.
Pokemon Go might bring a lot of people back to church, but not in the way one would expect, particularly because some Pokestops are actually churches. While riding a bus near the Vatican, I passed by the Roman parish of St. Peter the Apostle. And yes, it’s a Pokestop.
Nevertheless, I came to the realization that not only was I fully engrossed in the game, I was also alienating myself.
I was standing in the area where St. Peter was martyred, walking on stones that have been stepped on by countless saints, and yet I could only focus on where I could score a few Pokeballs and a Revive potion.
Technology has opened the doors to communicating with people and traveling to places we could only dream of.
But leaving it unchecked left me looking at a place that only existed in a fantasy world and not enjoying the true beauty out there. I’m reminded of Pope Francis’ wisdom on communicating with others: “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”
The following day, I walked to the office — phone in pocket — and realized that catching the sun rise over St. Peter’s Basilica was way more satisfying than catching Pokemon.