Pokemon and the dangers of role-playing games

By Berit Kjos*

October 1999 – Who are the strange little creatures from Japan that have suddenly turned into global superstars? Most kids know: They are called Pokemon (short for POCKEt MONster) and they have stirred up mixed reactions.

Any child exploring the most popular Pokemon websites will be linked to a selection of occult games such as Sailor Moon, Star Wars, and others more overtly evil. A click on the ad for Magic: The Gathering brings Pokemon fans to a site offering promotions such as this:

A global games phenomenon, Magic: The Gathering is to the 1990s what Dungeons and Dragons was to the 1980s, but with the added dimension of collectibility. Here is the official reference to the biggest new teen/young adult fantasy game of the decade, complete with full-color reproductions of every existing Magic card.

The Pokemon message
These websites give us a glimpse of the mysterious little creatures called Pokemon. Ponder the suggestions in this greeting:

Welcome to the world of Pokemon, a special place where people just like you train to become the number-one Pokemon Master in the World! Pokemon are incredible creatures that share the world with humans... There are currently 150 documented species of Pokemon.… Each has its own special fighting abilities;… Some grow, or evolve, into even more powerful creatures... Carry your pokemon with you, and you’re ready for anything! You’ve got the power in your hands, so use it!

What if children follow this advice, as many do. It makes sense to those who watch the TV show. In one episode (May 20), Ash, the boy hero, had just captured his fifth Pokemon. But that wasn’t good enough, said his mentor. He must catch more to become a Pokemon master. The more he catches and trains, the more power he will have for future battles.

Ash didn’t understand the supernatural powers he faced. Neither do most young Pokemon fans today. Unless they know God and His warnings, they cannot understand the forces that have captivated children around the world. And if parents underestimate the psychological strategies behind the mass marketing, they may dismiss Pokemon as innocent fantasy.

Marketing a new lifestyle
The Pokemon television series is free, but it inspires the obsessive new games that disrupt families by giving children a seductive vision (to become Pokemon masters) and a tempting promise (supernatural power).

These enticements are drilled into young minds through clever ads, snappy slogans, and the “Pokemon rap” at the end of each TV episode: I will travel across the land / Searching far and wide / Each Pokemon to understand / The power that’s inside. / Gotta catch them all!

The last line, the Pokemon mantra, fuels the craving for more occult cards, games, gadgets, and comic books. While children delight in these mysterious realms, concerned parents wonder what kinds of beliefs does Pokemon teach?

Changing beliefs and values
Back in 1995, Cecile DeNozzi’s local elementary school had found an exciting way to teach math using Magic: The Gathering.

Mrs. DiNozzi refused to let her son participate in the “Magic club.” But a classmate gave him one of the magic cards which pictured spirits rising from graves. Like all the other cards in this ghastly game, it offered this morbid advice: “Sacrifice a white creature.”

“What does ‘summon’ mean?” he asked his mother after school one day.

“Summon? Why do you ask?”

He told her that during recess the children would “summon” the forces on the cards they collect by raising sticks into the air and saying “Spirits enter me.” They called it “being possessed.”

Occult role-playing games add a sense of personal power and authority through identification with godlike superheroes. Though the demonic realm hasn’t changed, today’s technology, media, and multicultural climate makes it easier to access and harder than ever to resist.

In role-playing games the child becomes the master. As in contemporary witchcraft, he or she wields the power. Children from Christian homes may have learned to say, “Thy will be done,” but in the role-playing world, this prayer changes to “My will be done!” God, parents, pastor and other authority figures no longer fit.

When the game includes occultism and violence, the child-hero becomes an extension of the spiritual power used to destroy opponents. In Pokemon, the repetitive choices to fight, poison and evolve will sear the conscience, devalue life, and produce automatic responses in the player.

What can parents do?
These suggestions can help you prepare your child to resist occult entertainment:

1. Consider scriptures such as Ephesians 5:8-16, 6:10-18; Philippians 4:8; and Colossians 2:9.
2. Teach a biblical attitude toward evil with comments such as, “Who would want to play with that bad monster? Let’s find something that makes us happy instead.”
3. Ask, “What does this game show you about magic? About God? About yourself?
4. Determine if the fame involves supernatural power. What is its source?
5. Ask, "What does it teach about violence or immorality? Does it build godly character?"  undefined

* Berit Kjos is a columnist, conference speaker, grandmother, and author of Brave New Schools and A Twist of Faith. An expanded version of this article can be found here.