‘Gotta Catch Em All’

A few weeks ago, thousands of children came down with a strange new ailment called the "Pokemon Flu." This flu, which kept kids out of school for one day only, just happened to coincide with the release of the much-anticipated Pokemon movie. The film bagged a whopping 50 million dollars on its first weekend—and illustrates what an addictive hold the Pokemon craze has over kids. Pokemon—short for "Pocket Monsters"—originated three years ago as a Game Boy game, and was quickly turned into video games, a television series, and trading cards. The Pokemon monsters have names like Pikachu, Squirtle, and Charizard. Each of the Pokemon creatures has different powers and weaknesses. The point is to collect and train each character by fighting other Pokemon "trainers"—that is, other kids who have the cards. Pokemon supporters claim Pokemon encourages social interaction and helps kids think strategically. But there's little doubt that many kids also find Pokemon incredibly addicting—so much so that one newspaper calls Pokemon "Kiddie Crack." As Time magazine explains, "the key principle of the Pokeocracy is acquisitiveness." The London Independent complains that the five-billion-dollar Pokemon phenomenon "isn't a craze, it's a mania—and it's out of control." Pokemon's addictive quality is no accident. According to Electronic Gaming Monthly, "The game programs you to collect things." And the Atlanta Journal and Constitution contends that Pokemon "feeds into [children's] desire to collect and manipulate small objects." [In fact, the game cannot even be played without purchasing ever new material.] As a result, as one young Pokemon fan, Travis Price, put it, "Most kids get brainwashed into it. You get really obsessed with it." The Pokemon craze is the culmination of a trend that's been developing over the last couple of decades: companies bypass parents and aggressively market directly to kids. The Pokemon makers are simply doing this better than anyone else. As film critic Michael Medved put it, "Pokemania represents a gigantic, almost unprecedented triumph of marketing—with TV shows, Nintendo games, books, film and trading cards all relentlessly promoting one another." And in an era awash in media—including television sets in school classrooms—it's hard to distance our kids from companies that see them as just another target to exploit. In effect, these companies are telling our children the Bible gets it wrong when it says, "Thou shalt not covet." Indeed, Pokemon's advertising slogan—"Gotta Catch 'Em All!"—teaches kids that coveting is cool, that it's what life is all about. Kids are being indoctrinated in consumerism, big time. If you have kids, Pokemon products are probably at the top of their Christmas wish list. Parents need to use discretion in deciding whether or not to put them under the Christmas tree. If your kids are already Pokemon fans, it's a good idea to limit the amount of time they spend with them—and on them. Focus on the Family's webzine, Plugged In, recommends that parents watch for warning signs of Pokemon addiction, which include obsessive behavior. And when our kids and grandkids beg for just one more Pokemon card or game, we have to help them understand that the only thing they really need to "catch" is how well marketers are manipulating them.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary