Pokmon and Beyond
Imagine for a moment a little boy lifting his sleepy little head off his Pokemon pillowcase, climbing reluctantly out from underneath his warm Pokemon blanket, exchanging from his Pokemon pajamas into his favorite Pokemon T-shirt, drinking his morning juice from his beloved Pokemon cup. All the while, he is making his way into the family den to watch his favorite cartoon, Pokemon. A typical day begins like this for children in households all over the country.
Evidence of the Pokemon phenomenon is everywhere: on television, in movie theaters, at fast-food restaurants and in products of every conceivable type. There are Pokemon videos, toys, books, software, videogames, trading cards, school supplies, clothing and toiletries. The Pokemon brand is a five billion dollar industry worldwide. The prosperity of Pokemon has attracted negative attention from parents, educators and childhood experts. Labeling a product either good or bad on the basis of profit is wrong. The worth of a toy should be determined by the educational value for a child rather than monetary profits. The only downside to Pokemon’s success is it’s success. The Pokemon rage has spread like wildfire through schools and communities by word of mouth – the old fashioned way. Although scarce, advertisements for Pokemon appeal to the need for affiliation, the need to achieve and the need to dominate. The whole Pokemon fantasy is cognitively engaging for the targeted audience of children from six to fourteen years old. Parents should be quick to see the positive benefits of Pokemon for their children by looking beyond the promotional craze.
While Pokemon mania is seizing the attention of kids across the nation, kid’s culture has been doing this for a long time. There have always been kiddy crazes. For example, in the 50’s the hit television show Davy Crockett set off a coonskin cap craze. During the 60’s, children everywhere watched Howdy Doody religiously while sending off for prizes and joining his club. In the 70’s kids were crazy for Puff n Stuff fully equipped with the latest metal lunchbox illustrating their passion. Little blue elves called the Smurfs dominated the 80’s. While in the 90’s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers lit up the media and cash registers. Today’s children are no different than of days gone by. Tim Burke, a cultural history professor and author of Growing Up with Cartoon Culture, says, “Pokemon is a cultural phenomenon not just a toy fad. It’s an amazing piece of alchemy, the way one tie-in has seamlessly led to another…Pokemon has set a new standard” (Maurstad.) Parents should recognize that Pokemon is a fundamental part of childhood just as their favorite cartoon character was an important part of theirs.
For the Pokemon illiterate parent, understanding the origin of Pokemon can be as confusing as answering the proverbial question-which came first the chicken or the egg? Despite the publicity generated by the trading cards, the heart of Pokemon is a game cartridge for the Nintendo Game Boy. Pokemon began in Japan in 1996 and the game has swept across the United States at an accelerated speed. The game takes place in an imaginary land inhabited by 150 creatures called Pokemon, which translates to pocket monsters. The object of the game is for the player, called a trainer, to catch as many of the creatures as he or she can, hence the slogan “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.” Once caught, the creatures catch other Pokemon and the trainer receives badges in hopes of becoming a Pokemon master. Interestingly, Pokemon do not die in battles. They simple fall asleep or faint at which time they are taken to the Pokemon Center where they can be restored. Parents should recognize that Pokemon is a game of strategy not blood and guts.
Unfortunately, parents across the country become overly concerned when they hear the term pocket monsters. Ebeneezer Smith, a pastor from the Landover Baptist Church in Iowa, claims, “Pokemon toys and games are only sugar coated instruments of the occult and evil” (Landover.) To drive home his point, the pastor burned Pokemon trading cards and videos with a blowtorch while the congregation chanted, “burn it, chop it and kill them all.” Granted monsters make for disquieting playmates, monsters have a way with children. Take for example, Pikachu, who is the cutest mouse since Mickey and the merchandising champ of all the Pokemon monsters, is stealing the hearts of children all over the world. My eight-year-old daughter cried during a part of the Pokemon movie in which Pikachu was hurt. Such a display of empathy from a child should be heartwarming to any parent. However, Sesame Street, whose main characters are monsters such as the cookie monster, Oscar the grouch, Telly and Elmo, does not receive negative attention from the media and is considered wholesome and educational television for children. Parents should look away from the negative publicity to see the true educational value of Pokemon.
In Sports Illustrated for Kids, an advertisement for Pokemon trading cards appeals to a child’s need for affiliation, achievement and dominance. The ad asks the child to think of the best field trip imagineable and tells them that the Pokemon Trading Card League is one hundred times better. On this field trip, the child can learn to be a Master Trainer, earn official trainer badges and special game cards and make new friends (Sports Illustrated.) Pokemon combines game playing with collecting. Parents can relate through their days of collecting and acquiring baseball cards or dolls. Yet the best analogy is marbles, kids collect the marbles to play the game only to acquire more marbles from their opponents. Pokemon is cognitively appealing to children because this is where they are at developmentally. Children like the ordering, computing and categorizing which is involved in mastering the art of Pokemon. Pokemon is a uniquely positive game. Stephanie Pratola, a child psychologist, explains, “You have to look at in the context of our culture. We are all obsessed with acquiring things and we can’t expect our children to rise above our culture” (Hooked.)
Contrary to popular belief, Pokemon has positive lessons to be learned. First, the game is a social time for children to engage in friendly play. Second, the game fosters cooperation. It takes the help of one’s playmates to capture and train all one hundred and fifty plus Pokemon. Third, the game helps the player develop skills in strategy, thinking and memorization. The game also encourages a child to develop reading skills so he can achieve mastery. Fourth, the game promotes negotiation and organization skills that may be useful in life. Pokemon helps develop skills in the life of a young person that will provide a foundation for success. Parents should be quick to see that Pokemon encourages traditional values such as empathy, cooperation, obedience and humility. Becoming a real Pokemon trainer takes compassion, responsibility and teamwork. Parents should be proud to have such positive qualities blossoming within their children. In fact, Dr. Joyce Brothers praises the phenomenon’s value by reflecting that the whole point of the game is to save somebody, train them, feel responsibility and compassion (People Weekly.)
In conclusion, many companies are getting rich as a result of the Pokemon mania. Nintendo, which created the game that started the craze; Hasbro, which locked in on the toy licenses; Wizards of the Coast, which invented the card game and Warner Brothers, which bought the rights to the cartoon have generated profits into the millions seemingly at the expense of our children. But parents should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Parents must be quick to see the positive social and educational benefits Pokemon provides to their children. In the meantime, parents can remind themselves that every craze runs its course. Where another generation of kids had Howdy Doody or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this one has Pokemon. Let the kids enjoy it while it lasts.