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16th Nov 2018

I tried out The Vatican’s version of Pokémon Go and it changed my life forever

Did I save the game, or did the game save me?

Ciara Knight

Did I save the game, or did the game save me?

Fundación Ramón Pané has launched an app to rival Pokémon Go, with the incredibly catch name of ‘Follow JC Go!’

The Catholic evangelical group aims to garner some new recruits to their religion using the same augmented reality style of gameplay as the Pokémon app, which is a very ambitious claim and obviously something that requires immediate investigating.

I was raised as a Catholic and as a Pokémon trainer. My parents were very strict about those two defining principles. In recent years, I’ve lost interest in both, which makes now an excellent time to test this allegedly fun-yet-educational app with a view to reinstating my Catholic values through the power of Pokémon.

Giddy at the prospect of doing some personal discovery, I went in search of the app, spurred on even more by its wacky little icon which shows the big man JC walking towards a crossroads, except that if you look a little closer, you will see that it is indeed an actual cross, not a crossroads. The designer is a genius.

Initially I was thrilled that I met the game’s essential criteria of being aged 4+, but I also wanted to ensure that this was definitely the game for me. I perused the review section and found one singular submission doing all the heavy lifting for the app.

The user known simply as ‘UntitledGoats’ paints a colourful picture of his/her time playing the game, whereby their friend (Javier) went missing during the game and is still presumed unfound to this very day, and yet they persevered regardless. It transpires that they must now pay for Javier’s funeral, although he seems to still be missing, so perhaps they can delay proceedings until such time as they have a body, dead or alive.

With a renewed sense of purpose, I downloaded the app and got to work on setting it up. I was nervous, but excited about the adventures that undoubtedly lay ahead. Then I realised that the app had one language option available, which was Spanish. I do not speak Spanish.

Nevertheless, I persevered undeterred by the limitations of my linguistic abilities. I used Google Translate to get myself through the registration process, which involved submitting my diocese and parish for some reason. In the interest of full disclosure, I am ashamed to say that I made them up.

Once I had logged in, it was time to turn myself into a chilling 2D emoji character.

Using my limited knowledge of Spanish along with my ability to correctly identify the gender of animated characters, I worked out that ‘mujer’ meant woman. I wanted to choose the type of Catholic that I one day aspire to be. One whose fists are disproportionate to the rest of her body, enjoys wearing Aer Lingus cabin crew uniforms for sport, oils two tiny curls of hair to her cheeks for no reason and also wears glasses that are completely unsuitable for the shape of her face. Luckily, as evidenced above, they had exactly that.

Once we were acquainted, I set off around Dublin to experience the wonder that is Catholic Pokémon Go.

First impressions proved that it was indeed, somewhat like Pokémon Go, in the sense that it uses a map of the city to help you navigate the game. Dissimilar to the Pokémon app, there wasn’t a huge amount happening in terms of on-screen pop-ups, nor were there any symbols nearby to follow. I kept walking in search of something, anything that would make this a fruitful venture.

Eventually, I spotted a saint. I raced towards him with a sense of purpose I didn’t quite recognise in myself. I was excited at the prospect of getting to battle a real life saint, showing them that humanity is far more powerful than their holy powers, maybe even throw them a revive potion afterwards if I was feeling particularly generous. I reached the little symbol, out of breath and wondering if my Masters degree was in any way worth it in the long run, then determinedly tapped the icon.

Well then. You’ll notice that this, indeed, is not a duel with a saint. Instead, it is a trivia question, which is probably the exact opposite of a duel. Also, like the rest of the app, it’s in Spanish. I was stumped, but decided to use my intellect. Failing that, I used Google Translate, which told me that this guy, Aarón, was a brother and collaborator of Moses. I worked out that ‘Falso’ probably meant false, because I am a genius. So it’s a true or false question, which I quickly researched and learned to be true. I was right. Success! Maybe now I would get to battle Aarón and if he’s not too busy, Moses as well. But no, the app had other plans. Once I’d answered the question, that was it. No more interacting with Aarón. No prizes. We had shared our moment and now it was time to hit the road.

Dissatisfied with proceedings, I figured there must be another way to battle the saints. I continued wandering around Dublin, hoping to catch ’em all (saints). I headed towards a nearby cathedral, a likely hotspot for the clientele I was hoping to capture using the app. Saints should flock to cathedrals like goths to an area ripe for loitering, I thought.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the church, finally understanding those Russian novichok suspects’ insistence that they were visiting Salisbury purely to get a sweet look at its famous cathedral. Look at that building, what an architectural feat. A Catholic person’s paradise, a saint’s safe haven, you would think.

To my dissatisfaction, the cathedral had very few floating symbols hanging around. Just a lacklustre water feature and a yappy little dog. I mentally drafted a quick complaint letter to the app developers, then headed towards the elusive Virgin Mary symbol, answering a few more trivia questions along the way. It turns out that she also asks questions, at which point I stopped using Google translate and just started guessing the answers. “Who’s going to know?”, I rationalised, realising that if I had reached the intended devout Catholicism level at this point, I would’ve remembered that God would know as he sees all. But I hadn’t.

I decided to think in a more literal manner, trying out outsmart the game. If the saints weren’t going to present themselves unto me, perhaps I needed to seek them out, like a true Pokémon master. I took a slight detour and waited around for a while, certain that these holy beings would gather at a suitable location.

Shockingly, nothing happened. Saint Nicholas Place contained no saints, nor power washers, evidently. Perhaps I was being too smart, a problem I’m yet to encounter in my everyday life. There had to be a certain element of surprise in the game, I thought. I continued on my quest and waited for the saints to present themselves, roaming the streets like a lost soul searching for purpose. There’s probably a good bible reference to make here, I just can’t remember any because as stated previously, my devout Catholicism has lapsed in recent years.

I noticed the chalice symbol and wanted to believe that it would contain something other than those goddamn Catholic trivia questions. After walking for what felt like 17 years, I got to one. Perhaps this is the one that will provide the Pokémon-style duel with a saint that I so desperately crave, I thought to myself. Spoiler: It wasn’t. It’s a trick. The app wants you to pay money for such a basic human right as HYDRATION. Classic Catholic church, I guess.

Three gold coins for “regenerating my hydration”, it said. Perish the thought. My options were to click “I understand” or part ways with 3 (three!) gold coins, which I didn’t have, for the sake of having a sip of water? Maybe if I had been duelling with saints, as the app advertises, I would’ve required sustenance. But that transpired to be a lie, so if I anything I was retaining too much water at the time. The app had fallen on its own mediocre sword.

I continued to wander down the backstreets of Dublin city in search of something, anything that could turn this game right around from being awful, to slightly less awful. The bread symbol gave, as expected, bread. But the white cross was captivating. It really stood out. Red is my favourite colour, which its design conveniently featured. I had to have it. Maybe this was the key to finding true inner peace.

Please believe me when I say that I raced towards that majestic glowing symbol, mostly because my phone was starting to run out of battery. If there was going to be a saintly duel anywhere, surely it would be here. I politely pushed past people to get to this imaginary place, clinging to every remnant of hope that I had set out with. This game had, up to this point, been thoroughly garbage. Everything rested on this final symbol.

I tapped the icon and the word ‘Espiritualidad’ popped up. I rushed over to Google Translate and learned that I had just received spirituality. I walked thousands(ish) of miles for the word ‘spirituality’ to be bestowed upon me. Disheartened, I began the loser’s journey home. Midway through sending a message to my friend which said “Saint version of Pokémon Go is BULLSHIT – avoid”, my phone died. This diabolical app killed both my phone and my spirit. I was furious. But then I saw a horse, so momentarily forgot about my rage.

I brought a camera on my travels, which conveniently had full battery since I had been draining my phone to play the app and take photographs up to that point. After the horse hysteria and self-ridicule passed, I realised that I was actually quite far away from home. Specifically, from the office. I had taken a bunch of backstreets that I didn’t recognise and now I was stranded. Rather than simply asking someone for directions around the city where I have lived for ten years, I assumed that if I just kept walking around, I’d somehow end up in a familiar area. But reader, that didn’t happen. I went further and further into the abyss.

Fifteen minutes had passed and I was still no closer to work. Nothing looked familiar, it was like I had drifted into another city. Perhaps the app had finally redeemed itself, somehow transporting me to the Vatican to physically fight some saints, I wondered. But no, the app led me astray, both spiritually and geographically. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something. Like a beacon in the night, it was the cathedral I had seen earlier. The tip of its steeple was far away in the distance, poking out from behind a row of houses, but I recognised its majesty headed over towards it, like the three wise men following the star of Bethlehem, or whatever they used in lieu of Google maps.

When I reached Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, I realised something. The app didn’t deliver on its promises, but was Catholicism to blame? No, I didn’t get to duel with a shoddy 2D rendering of a ghostly saint in an epic battle, nor did I get to understand anything that was happening through the game since I don’t speak Spanish, but it was, technically, the church that led me back to safety in my hour of need.

In a way, Catholicism saved me when I was lost. To be clear, the game was complete garbage. Just absolute muck. Infuriatingly bad. But begrudgingly, I realised that I had actually learned a lot from Follow JC Go! Sometimes you get really lost, but if you take a step back and survey your surroundings, taking a moment to get your bearings, you will eventually be guided back to safety and the darkness will clear.

I started out trying to save saints, but in the end, in a roundabout way, it was the saints who saved me.

Also, false advertising should be a punishable crime and the makers of the app should fry for what they have done. All I wanted was to duel with and then capture some saints, ffs.