I tried out The Vatican's version of Pokémon Go in Dublin and it changed my life forever
Did I find the saints, or did they find 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 investigating.
I was raised both 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 a cross, not a crossroad.
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 submission. Truly, it was something very special indeed.
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 it he is still 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 made them up.
Once I had logged in, it was time to turn myself into a 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 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 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 being put to good use, 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 guessed 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 if he's around. But no, 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 a sweet location. 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 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 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 such 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. 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 background conveniently contained. 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.
After the horse hysteria 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. 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 I had been transported to the Vatican, I wondered. 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 in the distance, poking out from behind a row of houses, but I saw it and headed over towards it, like the three wise men following the star of Bethlehem.
When I reached Saint Patrick's majestic Cathedral, I realised something. Perhaps the app didn't deliver on its promises. No, I didn't get to duel with a 3D rendering of a ghostly saint in an epic battle, nor did I get to understand anything that was happening 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. I wanted to tweet about my revelation, but then I remembered that the stupid app had drained all my battery. Still, I learned a lot from JC Go, whether I liked it or not. Basically, always bring a portable charger with you everywhere you go. That's the life lesson here. Also, it's probably a good idea to learn Spanish, just in case. Thank you, falsely advertised app. You've inadvertently changed my life for the better.