“Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” (Gn 24:65).
St. Mary’s University in Calgary is apparently a hot spot for Pokémon GO! At all hours of the day or night our campus is filled with people of all ages, moving between our library and classroom buildings through to our historic cairn, controversially unveiled by an allegedly inebriated Bing Crosby. I first heard of the phenomenon when my head of security called to alert me to potential dangers. He had just stopped someone who was driving in reverse across our lawns in his SUV while looking at the screen of his phone. When pulled over the man insisted he wasn’t driving irresponsibly. He was merely “looking for Pokémon,” as though that explained it all.
We had one man leave his car in the middle of the main exit lane from the university, motor running, door open, with two infants strapped in the back seat while he hunted 10 metres away! Another woman dragged one of our concrete dividers through the parking lot, unaware, apparently, that it was stuck beneath her car. The most remarkable moment that I witnessed personally was a young boy on his bike cycling within a metre of one of the many wild deer we have on campus, totally oblivious to the magnificent creature, while fixated on an entirely imaginary creature on his phone. Even the deer looked at him in amazement, though perhaps I’m projecting.
Despite the disruption, I have asked our facilities teams, indeed everyone on campus, to welcome these visitors. My own son, who attends St. Mary’s, sent me a photo of all his friends on campus one evening, surrounded by a dozen other people, all hunting Pokémon. I have walked beside a father and son as the latter patiently explained to his dad how to capture an elusive Kabutops. More than ever there is a diversity of people on campus, strolling about, capturing mythical creatures and coming to know our campus, even indirectly, in a way that would not otherwise be possible.
This too is a manifestation of community, and a university campus, like a classroom, has to welcome everyone. We are only as vital as the energy that walks across our grounds, and in this sense the Pokémon phenomenon has added to the diversity of our visitors. It’s true that, as a Luddite, I wish they would put their phones away and look upon the marvel of this 35-acre site, cradled beside the largest urban provincial park in Alberta. On the other hand, it’s good to see them here, being with nature if not exactly of it. And who knows, someone might accidentally stumble into our library and pick up a book. Stranger things have happened.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.