Pokémon GO—a stealth issue in the U.S. presidential race
In this presidential election year in the United States, everything is potential fodder for politics. Even Pokémon GO,
Believe it or not, Nintendo’s hugely popular location-based augmented reality game is being used as a partisan weapon in the polarized battle between Democrats and Republicans. The game has especially become a stealth hot-button issue in the United States among evangelical Christian voters courted by the Trump campaign.
Pokémon GO to the polls or Pokémon GO to Hell?
On July 16 presumptive Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton staged a campaign rally at Madison Park in Lakewood, Ohio—a location that just happened to be both a Pokémon Go gym and a Pokéstop.
Under the heading “Gotta Catch ‘Em’ All“, the Clinton campaign website announced the campaign stop at Madison Park thusly:
“Join us as we go to the Pokestop in Madison Park and put up a lure module, get free pokemon, & battle each other while you register voters and learn more about Sec. Hillary Clinton!!! Kids welcome!”
Some observers are already questioning whether the use of the game to lure potential voters could break U.S. election laws, particularly in the future, if game developer Niantic goes ahead with plans to sell in-game advertising.
In the meantime, any a top-drawer campaign team worth its salt would certainly try to take advantage of Pokémon Go’s phenomenonal success, in order to help their candidate, or, at least, to hinder their opponent.
Speaking of top-drawer campaigns, two days earlier, on July 14, then-presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, posted a video to his Facebook page that portrayed his Democratic opponent as a sort of Pokémon creature in a parody of Nintendo’s game, called Crookéd Hillary NO.
The stat sheet for “Crooked Hillary” listed her “Type” as “Career Politician”, with “30,000 Emails Deleted” and her “Next Evolution” as “Unemployed”.
Fox News simply chalked up the theme of the attack message to the Trump campaign likewise trying to capitalize on the Pokémon Go phenomenon.
Different Pokés for different folks
While it’s true that both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns have been exploiting the Nintendo game, each has done so, I would argue, from very different political perspectives.
The Clinton campaign was trying to win the Pokémon Go vote—happily associating itself with the fun and youthful image of the popular smartphone game. The Trump campaign, on the other hand, was trying to make the same close association—between Clinton and Pokémon Go—but in order to further demonize Hillary Clinton in the eyes of far-right evangelical Christians—an important part of Donald Trump’s voting base.
Evangelicals have a devil of a time with Pokémon
Outspoken evangelical Christian pastor Rick Wiles, a huge Trump supporter, has described Pokémon Go as a “satanic app” on his Trunews website and on July 11, Wiles reportedly explained on his radio program that Pokemon are digital, cyber-demons, sent by Satan to help destabilize Christianity, which is why, says Wiles, that Pokémon Go has made a lot of churches into Pokestops (locations where players can pick up virtual tools for the game).
“They’re spawning demons inside your church,” Wiles reportedly told listeners. “They’re targeting your church with demonic activity.” But to what end, you might ask?
“This technology will be used by the enemies of the cross to target, locate and execute Christians,” Wiles explained.
Wiles may be at the extreme end of the spectrum but the Pokémon franchise is exactly the sort of secular phenomenon that concerns, if not scares the crap out of, many evangelicals. Those “pocket monsters”, with their demon-like forms and magical powers that can be used in the service of their owners—Pokémon is far too occult for many of your fundamentalist Christians, especially considering that the game is aimed at their children.
According to the debunking website Snopes, at least one one of the enduring links between Pokémon and Satan was forged back in 2012, when a gaming website fabricated a humorous (and ficticious) interview with the creator of Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri, which included an admission that the game is anti-Christian, and was developed with Satanists in mind.
Unfortunately, fundamentalist Christians insist on taking this satire as gospel truth because, well, they want to believe it.
And to be fair. Pokémon is in no way a product of Christian thinking; it is actually flavoured with more than a little Japanese animism—or perhaps “techno-animism” would be a more accurate term. The Guardian has even gone so far as to describe Pokémon as a religion. (Way to set the cat among the pigeons Guardian!)
However, if Pokémon GO is, in any way, antithetical to evangelical Christian beliefs, it’s not intentional; it’s not part of a plot or a global conspiracy. It’s just a Japanese game.
But that’s not how evangelicals would choose to see it. They do not believe in innocent secular fun. They believe that the secular world is an endless series of blandishments set out by Satan and his minions to tempt them—the true-believers—and to lead them astray.
Now keep in mind that the man Donald Trump has chosen as his vice-presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is exactly the sort of conservative evangelical who both believes this sort of thing—that the popular culture of secular society is fundamentally trying to undermine Christian values—and whose vote the Trump campaign is assiduously courting.
Pense has learned to hide the full extent of his evangelicalism but I have no doubt that he believes the worst about Pokémon GO.
After all, this is the same man who, in 1999, wrote a heart-felt op-ed piece declaring that Disney’s animated feature film Mulan was nothing but a piece of liberal propaganda designed with one goal in mind—to inculcate small children with the false notion that women belonged in combat roles in the military. Click the image to enlarge it.