Unlike Stikee devils, hunted saints Go to heaven
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
So Pick n Pay’s Smart Shopper has won the loyalty-programme prize in this year’s Sunday Times Top Brands Awards. This is not at all surprising. What is surprising is the news that Pope Francis has endorsed a religious version of Pokémon Go in which the fantasy creatures hunted by children with smartphones are not Pikachu and Mimikyu but Peter, Paul and Mary.
No, this is not a game that sends you to old-age homes and rehab clinics in search of folk singers from the 1960s. The app with papal approval is called “Follow JC Go!” and the object is to find saints and martyrs (which apparently are not always the same thing).
According to its inventors, the game will encourage young Catholics to go to church. It’s a bit of a trick, really, because players have to visit religious sites and places of worship to find digitally superimposed saints on their phones.
Imagine a phalanx of children looking under every hedge for a Saint Bernard and stopping strangers in the street to ask: “Have you found Jesus?” At the moment the game is only available in Spanish, but this might turn out to be an advantage – “Saint” in Spanish is “Santa”, and what child wouldn’t join a citywide search for the man with a bag full of presents?
Pokémon and saints do have some things in common, most notably their tendency to multiply. The original game contained 151 characters, but according to the official Pokémon database, the Pokédex for Generation 7 “lists every one of the 807 Pokémon discovered so far”. Although they have been around for a bit longer, at last count there were just 894 recognised saints on the official Catholic website, so at this rate it won’t be long before pokémon outnumber saints.
It sounds like a winning move that might see the Vatican take the customer-loyalty prize from under Pick n Pay’s nose next year. Unless, of course, Pick n Pay brings back Stikeez. Adults and children alike went crazy for those critters. Combine them with a money-saving loyalty programme and surely you’d never lose a customer?
Then I remembered. At the height of the Stikeez craze, about three or so years ago, there was a massive hoax perpetrated on the unsuspecting Stikee-collecting public. An organisation calling itself “South Africans against Dagga and Satan” accused Stikeez of being the devil’s henchmen.
This odd body’s Facebook page quoted an “unnamed demonisticologist” who called the plastic figurines “miniature demons … not harmless toys but satanistic fetishes”. There was even “hidden-camera footage” of devilish Stikeez performing a sinister candle-lighting ceremony. No one took it seriously (at least I hope they didn’t) and I don’t believe “South Africans against Dagga and Satan” had anything to do with the withdrawal of Stikeez from the market. Just look at the success of their anti-cannabis crusade.
What a lovely spoof it was. The word “spoof”, incidentally, comes from a game called Spouf, which the Online Etymology Dictionary says was invented in 1884 by British comedian Arthur Roberts, who enjoyed deceiving his friends. Wikipedia’s entry says Spoof was a gambling game played in bars, where the player who correctly guessed the number of coins held by his lying opponent got (I imagine) a free drink.
Those are the games people played before we started looking for sinners in our Stikeez and saints on our phones.
By the way, pokémon, in its current incarnation, is a word that marries “pocket” and “monsters”, but, according to some etymological investigators, pokemon without the accent on the e was also an ancient Cornish word that meant, like, totally absurd. I haven’t been able to verify that, however, so I think it might be a spoof.