Pokemon gets cautious reception from Christian media analysts
Posted on Nov 19, 1999 | by Debbie Moore
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Pokemon -- the craze that has captured children's imagination, time and money -- has exploded into a multi-million-dollar merchandise and entertainment phenomenon in less than 12 months and generated a barrage of criticism from some conservative Christian sources.
A search for Pokemon on the Internet shows the Christian community's comments and concerns about the Pokemon phenomenon range from "nothing to worry about" and "it's only a game" to accusations that the Pokemon trading cards, currently the most popular item in the merchandise line-up, lead children into the occult.
Pokemon (short for "pocket monsters," fantastical creatures possessing unique fighting powers) was new to American toy stores this time last year. The first item for sale was the Nintendo video game, a hit with kids in Japan more than two years before it was exported to the United States in late 1998. Then Nintendo allowed Wizards of the Coast, Inc., the manufacturers of the infamous "Magic: The Gathering" trading card game and "Dungeons and Dragons" roll-playing game, to begin production of the now-ubiquitous Pokemon Trading Card Game.
But while the Pokemon card game has motivated some children to enjoy reading and working math problems, it has also induced some school principals to ban Pokemon from their campuses and some parents to wonder about Pokemon's value. To some parents, concerns about Pokemon values only go as far as trying to keep their kids from making bad card trades with shrewd classmates, while others are starting to think about possible social and spiritual ramifications.
A San Diego law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against Nintendo, with plaintiffs, mainly parents, claiming Pokemon promotes an illegal form of gambling. The lawsuit compares an alleged addiction with the Pokemon Trading Card Game to lottery scratch tickets and slot machines, since each Pokemon card pack has a few high-value cards, supposedly encouraging children to want to buy more Pokemon cards, like adults by lottery tickets, in hopes of finding a rare holographic Pickachu (the cute, yellow pig-like Pokemon that is also available as a cuddly stuffed animal).
Conservative criticism prompted CNN's TalkBack Live to devote its Nov. 10 show -- the day "Pokemon: The First Movie" debuted -- to a discussion of Pokemon, tossing out the question, "Is 'Pokemon' Healthy Fantasy for Kids or a Dangerous Fad?"
"Slate" published an article on Pokemon in its Nov. 12 "Assessment" column. In describing Pokemons' evolutionary qualities, writer David Plotz cynically acknowledges, "Pokemon combines the best elements of other kid fads ... exploit[ing] kids' instinct to collect," as the Pokemon motto is "Gotta catch 'em all." "All" refers to the 151 Pokemon currently available in the United States. Next year, 100 new Pokemon are set to be released in 2000.
The Nov. 15 edition of Christianity Today Online, christianitytoday.com, has a nominal review of the Pokemon movie, stating, "You'll be hard-pressed to find a positive review of this movie, Christian or otherwise; presumably because no one's hiring 6-year-old critics." Reviewer John Evans acknowledges the concerns some Christian parents have about Pokemon, stating, "These powers and occultic-type games have caused considerable concern among discerning parents, teachers and Christian observers ... . There is also the concern that the popularity is the first step for some children to occultic games, undesirable beliefs and a mesmerizing fantasy world."
The Nov. 17 edition of Focus on the Family's "Plugged In" publication, available online at www.family.org, features a generous discussion of Pokemon from nearly every angle by Loren Eaton, a contributing analyst. "Plugged In" is Focus' monthly periodical and website devoted to "helping parents and youth leaders guide teens through the world of popular youth culture."
In "What in the World Is Pokemon?" Eaton carefully navigates his way through some of the more outrageous claims floating around on the Internet about Pokemon, then concludes by stating Pokemon "encourages reading, critical thinking and social interaction. But it also contains mild violence, can lead to other disturbing games, is very addictive and can easily cause strife between parents and children. Additionally, the mere presence of ghosts and 'psychic' characters may effectively nix Pokemon for some families. In all cases, caution and moderation are key."
Eaton warns parents who don't mind their kids playing Pokemon to watch their children for signs of addiction, which he lists as "obsessive behavior, a consistent unwillingness to do schoolwork, disobedience when asked to leave the game to come to dinner, etc."
Plotz, writing in Slate, meanwhile, calls the Pokemon Trading Card Game "an intellectually demanding game," acknowledging that it "may resemble Dungeons & Dragons more than any toy fad" as "Pokemon creates an entire alternate universe, a land with its own cities, ecosystem, and rules." He also recounts "the usual fundamentalist protests," such as a Colorado preacher who allegedly made the children in his congregation watch as he burned Pokemon cards and used a sword to chop up a Pokemon toy.
Editors' Note: Pokemon is correctly spelled with an accent over the e.