How Pokemon and Magic Cards
Affect the Minds and Values of Children
(The Dangers of Role-Playing Games)
Note: The author has granted permission for this article
to appear on the Logos Web Page
THE POKEMON MESSAGE
MARKETING A NEW LIFESTYLE
CHANGING BELIEFS AND VALUES
ROLE-PLAY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ADDICTION
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Who are the strange little creatures from Japan that have suddenly become global
super-stars? Most kids know the answer well: They are called Pokemon (short for POCKEt
MONster and pronounced Pokeymon), and they have stirred up some mixed reactions.
"We just sent a letter home today saying Pokemon cards are no longer allowed on
campus," said Paula Williams, a second-grade teacher in Danville, California.
"The kids know they're supposed to be put away when they come in from recess, but
they're often in the middle of a trade, so they don't come in on time. In the more extreme
cases, the older kids are getting little kids to trade away valuable cards . . . . It
drives a teacher crazy." 1
It concerns parents even more. "Recently, my children were given a set of Pokemon
cards," said DiAnna Brannan, a Seattle mom. "They are very popular with
the children at our church and elsewhere. I was instantly suspicious but couldn't discern
the problem. We have since been told that they are stepping stones to the 'Magic cards'
that have been popular for the last few years, which we do not allow."
She is right. For instance, any child exploring the most popular Pokemon websites
" 2 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 above websites gives us glimpse of the mysterious little creatures called
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!"
"But what is a Pokemon, you ask. 'Pokemon are incredible creatures that share the
world with humans,' says Professor Oak, the leading authority on these monsters.
"There are currently 150 documented species of Pokemon. . . . Each Pokemon 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!". " 3
What if children try to follow this advice? What if they carry their favorite monsters
like magical charms or fetishes in their pockets, trusting them to bring power in times of
Many do. It makes sense to those who watch the television show. In a recent episode,
Ash, the boy hero, had just captured his fifth little Pokemon. But that wasn't good
enough, said his mentor. He must catch lots more if he wants to be a Pokemon master. And
the more he catches and trains, the more power he will have for future battles.
So Ash sets out again in search for more of the reclusive, power-filled, little
Pokemon. His first step is to find the "psychic Pokemon" called Kadabra and
snatch it from its telepathic, pink-eyed trainer, Sabrina. With the ghost Haunter on his
side, it should be a cinch!
But Ash had underestimated the power of his opponent. When he and Sabrina meet for the
battle, both hurl their chosen Pokemon into the air, but only Kadabra evolves into a
super-monster with a magic flash. Haunter hides. "Looks like your ghost Pokemon got
spooked," taunts Sabrina.
Obviously, Ash didn't understand the supernatural powers he had confronted. Neither do
most young Pokeman 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 its seductive mass marketing ploys, they
are likely to dismiss the Pokemon craze as harmless fun and innocent fantasy. In reality,
the problem is far more complex.
The Pokemon mania supports a financial conglomerate that knows how to feed the frenzy.
The television series is free, but it drives the multi-billion dollar business. It also
inspires the obsessive new games that disrupt schools and families by giving the children
- a seductive vision: to become Pokemon masters
- a tempting promise: supernatural power
- a new objective: keep collecting Pokemon
- an urgent command: "gotta catch them all"
These enticements are drilled into young minds through clever ads, snappy slogans, and
the "Pokeman rap" at the end of each TV episode:
"I will travel across the land
Searching far and wide
Each Pokeman 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,
toys, gadgets, and comic books. There's no end to the supply, for where the Pokemon world
ends, there beckons an ever-growing empire of new, more thrilling, occult, and violent
products. Each can transport the child into a fantasy world that eventually seems far more
normal and exciting than the real world. Here, evil looks good and good is dismissed as
boring. Family, relationships, and responsibilities diminish in the wake of the social and
media pressures to master the powers unleashed by the massive global entertainment
No wonder children caught up in the Pokemon craze beg for more games and gadgets. The
Japanese makers count on it. Since the means often justify the economic ends in
the entertainment industry, the Pokemon website is full of tips, explanations, and ads
that encourage the urge to splurge - and to express the darker side of human nature.
Ponder their influence:
"You can catch a Mew by cheating with a Gameshark."
Ahhh. The Gameshark. . . Cheating is not honorable. But many of you have requested and
sent me this information, so I have put it up for all you cheaters."
"The Moon Stone evolves certain Pokemon, such as Clefairy."
"Select your desired attack. Hold down the button until your opponent's life stops
"Once you have captured Zapados, you can use it to quickly lower the health level
of Articuno. . . ."
"Super Smash Brothers. . . . This unique fighting game features all of Nintendo's
biggest stars in a bruising brawl-fest . . . ."
While children delight in these mysterious realms, concerned parents worry and wonder.
What kinds of beliefs and values does the Pokemon world and its links teach? Why the
emphasis on evolution, supernatural power, and poisoning your opponent?
Barbara Whitehorse started seeking answers after her son asked a typical question:
"Mom, can I get Pokemon cards? A lot of my friends from church have them." Much
as she wanted Matthew to have fun with his friends, she gave a loving refusal. Matthew's
tutor had already warned her that the Pokemon craze could stir interest in other kinds of
occult role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. At the time, she wondered if the
tutor had just over-reacted to some harmless entertainment. After all, the cute little
Pokemon creatures looked nothing like the dark demonic creatures of D&D. But when she
learned that a local Christian school had banned them because of their link to the occult,
she changed her mind.
Later, during a recent party for Matthew, Barbara heard two of the boys discussing
their little pocket monsters. One said, "I'll just use my psychic powers."
Already, the world of fantasy had colored his real world. So when some of the kids wanted
to watch the afternoon Pokemon cartoon on television, Barb again had to say
"no." It's not easy to be parents these days.
Cecile DiNozzi would agree. Back in 1995, her son's elementary school had found a new,
exciting way to teach math. The Pound Ridge Elementary school was using Magic: the
Gathering, the role-playing game called which, like Dungeons and Dragons, has built a cult
following among people of all ages across the country.
Mrs. DiNozzi refused to let her son participate in the "Magic club." But a
classmate gave him one of the magic cards, which he showed his mother. It was called
"Soul exchange" and pictured spirits rising from graves. Like all the other
cards in this ghastly game, it offered a morbid instruction: "Sacrifice a white
"What does 'summon' mean?" he asked his mother after school one day.
"Summon? Why do you ask?"
He told her that during recess on the playground the children would "summon"
the forces on the cards they collect by raising sticks into the air and saying,
"'Spirits enter me.' They call it 'being possessed.'" 5
Strange as it may sound to American ears, demonic possession is no longer confined to
distant lands. Today, government schools from coast to coast are teaching students the
skills once reserved for the tribal witchdoctor or shaman in distant lands. Children
everywhere are learning the pagan formulas for invoking "angelic" or demonic
spirits through multicultural education, popular books, movies, and television. It's not
surprising that deadly explosions of untamed violence suddenly erupt from
"normal" teens across our land.
Occult role-playing games teach the same dangerous lessons. They also add a sense of
personal power and authority through personal 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 its appeal.
The televised Pokemon show brings suggestions and images that set the stage for the
next steps of entanglement. It beckons the young spectator to enter the manipulative realm
of role-play, where fantasy simulates reality, and the buyer becomes a slave to their
Remember, in the realm of popular role-playing games - whether it's Pokemon, Magic the
Gathering, or other selections -- the child becomes the master. As in contemporary
witchcraft, he or she wields the power. Their arm, mind, or power-symbol (the pokemon or
other action figure) become the channel for the spiritual forces. Children from Christian
homes may have learned to say, "Thy will be done," but in the role-playing
world, this prayer is twisted into "My will be done!" God, parents, and
pastors no longer fit into the picture fantasized by the child.
Psychologists have warned that role-playing can cause the participant to actually experience,
emotionally, the role being played. Again, "the child becomes the master." Or so
it seems to the player.
Actually, the programmer who writes the rules is the master. And when the game includes
occultism and violence, the child-hero is trained to use "his" or
"her" spiritual power to kill, poison, evolve, and destroy -- over and over. Not
only does this repetitive practice blur the line between reality and fantasy, it also
sears the conscience and causes the player to devalue life. The child learns to accept
unthinkable behavior as "normal" .
To be a winner within this system, the committed player must know and follow the rules
of the game. Obedience becomes a reflex, strengthened by instant rewards or positive
reinforcement. The rules and rewards force the child to develop new habits and patterned
responses to certain stimuli. Day after day, this powerful psychological process
manipulates the child's thoughts, feelings, and actions, until his or her personality
changes and, as many parents confirm, interest in ordinary family life begins to wither
You may have recognized those preceding terms as those often used by behavioral
psychologists. They point to a sophisticated system of operant conditioning or behavior
modification. The child must exercise his own intelligent mind to learn the complex rules.
But after learning the rules, the programmed stimuli produce conditioned responses in the
player. These responses become increasingly automatic, a reflex action. Naturally, this
can leads to psychological addiction, a craving for ever greater (and more expensive)
thrills and darker forces.
It's hard to teach restraint to children who are begging for gratification. Wanting to
please rather than overreact, we flinch at the thought of being called censors once again.
Parental authority simply doesn't fit the fast-spreading new views of social equality
taught through the media and schools. Yet, we must obey God. He has told us to train our
children to choose His way (Proverbs 22:6), and we can't turn back now.
If you share my concerns, you may want to follow these suggestions. They will help you
equip your child with the awareness needed to resist occult entertainment:
1. First, look at God's view of contemporary toys, games and cartoons. As a family,
read Scriptures such as Ephesians 5:8-16, 6:10-18 (the armor of God); Philippians
and Colossians 2:9. Compare them with the values encouraged by Pokemon and other
2. Share your observations. Spark awareness in a young child with comments such as,
"That monster looks mean!" or "That creature reminds me of a dragon,"
along with "Did you know that in the Bible, serpents and dragons always represent
Satan and evil?"
3. To teach young children a Biblical attitude toward evil before they learn to delight
in gross, ugly characters, make comments such as, "Who would want to play with that
evil monster? I don't even like to look at him. Let's find something that makes us feel
4. Model wise decision-making. Tell your child why you wouldn't want to buy certain
things for yourself.
When your child wants a questionable game or toy, ask questions that are prayerfully
adapted to your child's age, such as:
1. What does this game teach you (about power, about magic, about God, about yourself)?
Discuss both obvious and subtle messages.
2. Does it have anything to do with supernatural power? If so, what is the source of
that power? Does it oppose or agree with God's Word?
3. What does it teach about violence or immorality and their consequences?
4. Does the game or toy have symbols or characteristics that link it to New Age or
5. Does it build godly character?
In a nation consumed with self-indulgence, self-fulfillment, and self-empowerment,
godly self-denial seems strangely out of place. But God commanded it, and Jesus
demonstrated it. Dare we refuse to acknowledge it? According to the age of your child,
discuss Jesus' words in Matthew 16:24-26, then allow the Holy Spirit to direct your
Far more than earthly parents, God wants His children to be content and full of joy.
But He knows better than to give us all the things we want. Instead, He gave us His word
as a standard for what brings genuine peace and happiness. The apostle Paul summarized it
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever
things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever
things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on
these things." (Philippians 4:8)
After hearing God's warning and praying for His wisdom, nine-year-old Alan Brannan
decided to throw away all his Pokemon cards. "My friend did the same," said his
mother. "Her twelve year old son had been having nightmares. But after a discussion
with his parents about the game and its symbols, he was convicted to burn his cards and
return his Gameboy game. That night slept well for the first time in a month."
"It seemed to us that these cards had some sort of power," continued DiAnna
Brannan. "Another nine-year-boy had stolen money from his mother's purse ($7.00) to
buy more cards. When questioned, he confessed and said he had heard the devil urging him
to do it. The family quickly gathered in prayer, then saw God's answer. Both the boy and
his little sister burned their cards, warned their friends, and discovered the joy and
freedom that only comes from following their Shepherd.
1. Laura Evenson, "Seeing Red and Blue at Schools," San Francisco
Chronicle, April 20, 1999.
2. http://www.pokemon.com and http://www.wizards.com/Pokemon/Rules/Welcome.html (Apparently, the latter site has changed since I downloaded and printed the original
pages. Now, if you click on the above URL, you will probably face a sign saying "The
page you have requested can not be located." If so, just click on the Wizard banner
in the upper left corner, and you will enter the site. Notice the links to "Magic:
the Gathering" and "Dungeons and Dragons" on the right side. However, the
Pokemon rules seems to have disappeared.)
3. http://www.wizards.com/Pokemon/Rules/Welcome.html (See note above)
4. "Haunter versus Kadabra," aired on May 20, 1999.
5. Transcribed from a recorded interview with Cecile
DiNozzi in Pound Ridge, New York.