Answers to Pokemon mail

Re: The Dangers of Role-Playing Games



An old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon may help provide a context for our discussion. The two friends are speeding down the snowy mountain in a sled as Calvin shares his anxiety about Christmas.

"You're worried you haven't been good?" asks Hobbes.

"That’s just the question," answers Calvin. "It’s all relative. What’s Santa’s definition? How good do you have to be to qualify as good? I haven’t killed anybody. See, that’s good, right? I haven’t committed any felonies. I didn’t start any wars. I don’t practice cannibalism. Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty good? Wouldn’t you say I should get lots of presents?"

Looking serious, Hobbes answers, "But maybe good is more than the absence of bad."

"See, that’s just what worries me," says Calvin. "OK, assuming I can get an overnight letter to the North Pole, what would you charge to write me a glowing character reference?"

"Oh no, I’m not going to perjure myself for you!" answers Hobbes, looking rather self-righteous. "My record’s clean!"

In today's culture, it's normal to see the world through the filter of relativism and ignore God's unchanging Word. So it's not surprising that many of you ask, "Out of all the bad things" out there, why did we pick on Pokemon -- or Harry Potter or Yu-gi-oh? After all, Doom and Quake, two dark occult games that are obviously full of "evil" images and suggestions, would have been more likely candidates for a critical review.

I appreciate this question since it begs two basic answers: Pokemon’s spiritual influence clashes with God's standard, and its danger to Biblical faith is far more subtle than that of Doom and Quake. Few Christian families would consider buying the latter two games. But concerned parents, who see obsessive behavior in children captivated by Pokemon, find it much harder to say no to the cute little pocket monsters than to the obviously occult games. Yet they sense there is something wrong. That’s why parents ask for answers and guidelines. This is my response.

In other words, wrote it to help Christian parents who want to follow God's way. I didn’t write it to tell fans what to do. Nor did I write it "to get publicity" or to sell books, as some of you have suggested. I pointed to A Twist of Faith at the end of the article, because it answers some of the difficult questions about occult influences that I didn’t address. It also provides the kind of practical help than I can’t possibly offer in a simple article.

The only place I posted this article was at our website, which is primarily a ministry to Christian families. I did not send it to the Nintendo site where many of you found a link. I don’t know who did. Therefore, it’s a bit ludicrous that so many of you were offended, wished me dead, and believed that I "should be kept away from all other humans!"

I had to laugh when I read some of those comments! Yet, that irrational attitude comes dangerously close to suggesting censorship of voices and websites that express a different set of convictions than your own. It raises some serious questions about the future of the freedom many of us have treasured in America:

  • Would you want to trade "free speech" and the other rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of our Constitution for enforced compliance with your own beliefs?

  • Would you censor Christian websites that communicate values contrary to your own?

  • What will happen to America if a majority feels free to curse, condemn, and hate anyone who shares a contrary opinion or violates their comfort zone?

Many of you told me that I was hateful because I criticized your favorite game. But I surely don’t hate any of you! Nor do I hate Pokemon. As you said, it’s only a game.

But even if I did feel hatred for Pokemon, why would that upset you so much? Could the game and its cute little monsters possibly mean more to you than "just fantasy" – as you claim? Some of the rage in defense of Pokemon and Magic the Gathering sounds more like the fighting words of devotees deeply committed to a cause or an idol, or in love with a person. If Pokemon is nothing more than a game to you, why such fervor?

I mention this, because the passion many of you express illustrates the kind of obsession that worries parents and grandparents across the country. Some children, when asked to stop playing these games and rejoin the family, either ignore their parents or rage at them.

The reason for my article was neither anger toward the game nor toward the people who played it. I wanted to look at Pokemon from a Biblical perspective so I could warn Christian families. Let me assure you again, I wasn’t writing to you! You happened to read what I intended for those who wanted this information – the Christian parents who come to our website for Biblical encouragement.

But "I’m also a Christian," some of you assured me.

Please remember that there are many kinds of "Christians" today. The word "Christianity," like "God," "truth," and other significant words, has been redefined to fit today’s paradigm shift. Since I don’t know what each you believe about God and His ways, let me share with you what being a Christian means to me. Then you can tell me if indeed we follow the same God. This explanation will also help answer many of the questions you raised about my objections to and attitude toward Pokemon:

1. Following God’s way. First of all, I believe that when someone chooses to trust in the sovereign God of the universe, He joins that person to Himself through His death on the cross. That’s what happened to me. I became part of His family, and He became my King, my Counselor, and my Shepherd. Galatians 2:20 describes it well:

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…."

Because He lives in me, I want to do what pleases Him. He, in turn, enables me to know and follow His will. My primary guidance comes from the Bible. And throughout the Old Testament, He warns us to shun other gods (including the spirits, rituals, and practices embraced by other religions) and follow only Him.

2. Occult practices. A key Scripture is Deuteronomy 18:9-13. It tells us to guard against all the rituals and practices that are basic to most earth-centered religions such as divination, witchcraft, sorcery, spiritism, spell casting, and calling "up the dead." While God calls them "abominations," most children today view them as exciting and innocent fun.

All these practices were either implied or demonstrated in the Pokemon shows I watched on television for three weeks. One of those shows included several appearances of the beautiful ghost of a young woman who had died long ago. Not only did she manifest her presence as a seductive apparition, she could also take the shape of an old woman and communicate verbally with Ash and his friends. This ghostly apparition and her messages fit the last of the occult practices listed the Deuteronomy passage.

In case you haven’t consciously noticed each of these unholy practices in the Pokemon show and games, let me define them for you. These meanings came from Webster’s Dictionary, Encyclopedic Edition, 1989. Each of these words were demonstrated in the above episode or in the episode I described in the article:

Occult: "beyond the range of normal perception; secret, mysterious, esoteric; dealing with magic, alchemy, astrology, etc.…. the supernatural."

Divination: "a divining or foretelling of the future or the unknown by supernatural means"

Sorcery: "the use of magic powers derived from evil spirits" [Any supernatural "spirit" mentioned in the Bible, not including the Holy Spirit or God’s Spirit which is always capitalized, would be part of the demonic realm and therefore considered evil. It would include ghosts, psychic forces, etc.]

 Witchcraft: "Sorcery as practiced by a witch or witches." On page 62 in her book, The Spiral Dance, a practical manual on witchcraft, Wiccan leader Starhawk explains,

"Magical training varies greatly, but its purpose is always the same: to open up the... consciousness that allows us to make contact with the Divine within. The beginner must develop four basic abilities: relaxation, concentration, visualization and projection."

Spell: "an incantation, words which properly changed or uttered are supposed to have magical effect." "To cast a spell is to project energy through a symbol," wrote Starhawk in The Spiral Dance, page 124.

Necromancy: "the art of foretelling the future or magically achieving some purpose by communication with the spirits of the dead."

3. Practicing discernment. I agree with you that Pokemon seems innocuous at first glance, especially true when compared to many other shows or games which are obviously filled with violence and occult forces. The fact that many of the televised episodes don’t emphasize the above practices, makes the Pokemon fantasy world all the more deceptive. But that doesn’t mean that children are immune to its subtle messages concerning supernatural forces and authority. The Bible tells us to "beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8) We would be wise to heed that warning.

Please don’t tell me again that children know the difference between fantasy and reality. Some don’t, but most do – at least on the surface. But you can’t count on it. Many children today spend far more time in the mythical world of television and movies than they do learning the facts about the real world. Consequently, much of their understanding of reality, values, relationships, and spiritual forces come from the images and suggestions they absorb from being immersed in fantasy through television, movies, music, books, and school.

4. Psychological addiction. Even children who see clearly the difference between fantasy and reality can become obsessed by this word of fantasy. Many prefer it to reality. They want its thrilling escape from the responsibilities of the real world and often resent the intrusion of parents and siblings. The Bible describes this addictive process in Romans 1:21-32 and 6:13-18.

On Sunday night (8-22), CNN gave a brief report about "Internet addiction," warning viewers that such psychological addiction causes relational problems, especially in marriage. Think about it. If the "experts" tell us that adults can become addicted, are children any less immune to today’s captivating games and entertainment?

May I suggest to those who consider themselves experts in psychology – or who believe that only "unstable" children can be affected by role-playing games – that you re-read the section on psychological addiction in the Pokemon article, then read two other articles, "From the Littleton Crisis to Government Control" and "Zero Tolerance for Non-Compliance." You will see how stable students are rendered unstable by the new education programs. When you add the two factors – psycho-social education programs and role-playing games that desensitize students to occult dangers -- the result could be painful for both children and their families.

5. The problem with desensitization. A 13-year-old made this comment: "Even the "terrifying occult ghosts" Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar are portrayed as goof-offs who are just lonely guys looking for someone to talk too. . . .There is nothing wrong with the game. The only poison is that spread by those sadists who try to tear children away from their favorite game with threats of punishment by the Devil. If religion has become nothing more than a bludgeon to terrify children into giving up their livelihood, I pray that somebody sets the world right before the world descends into a spiraling abyss of anarchy."

Again, let me remind you that the problem is not so much what each Pokemon does - whether they are "goof-offs" or serious practitioners. The main danger is the enticement to become so fascinated with the feel-good fantasy world and its supernatural forces that they prefer not to follow God anymore. Pokemon characters such Haunter, Hypno, Kadabra, and Gastly may be innocent in their actions but they are all identified with practices and beliefs that clash with the Bible. Therefore they can desensitize children to practices that God forbids, and they can produce results common to the Old Testament slide toward paganism:

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil. … Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:20-21)

6. Called to single-mindedness. "Try to be more open minded about cards," one of you suggested. "Try to play, read the background stories, and don't get scared if the word Demon is mentioned. Just remember that in Magic, there is an equal amount of White (the "good" ones) and Black (the ‘evil ones’) cards."

From a Christian perspective, half and half isn’t good enough. You cannot have a foot in both camps. God tells us to shun evil. If you don’t, you will eventually shun the Biblical God -- or follow a God of your own imagination.

"No one can serve two masters," warned Jesus. "Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24)

Genuine Christianity cannot be compromised. As soon as a person tries to blend (synthesize) it with other religions to create what seems to be a more "tolerant religion", it ceases to be Biblical Christianity. We cannot follow Jesus Christ, while living by a different set of values. The two have never really matched, and today they are becoming increasingly incompatible.

7. Taming human nature. Some of you mentioned that the Bible contained all kinds of evils: sexual immorality, idol worship, murder, child sacrifice, etc. It’s true. The Bible is very honest about the inclination of our fallen human nature. In the Old Testament days, God dealt with persistent and spreading evil by withdrawing His protection from the land and allowing all kinds of enemies to oppress His people. All those illustrations are warnings for us today. (See 1 Corinthians 10:6-11)

The evils committed under the banner of Christianity through the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, etc. had nothing to do with genuine Christianity. It had everything to do with our greedy, power-hungry human nature which refuses to either know or follow the Shepherd. Apart from Christ, that’s how people and nations behave everywhere, whether or not they call themselves Christians. Please don’t blame human evils on a "straw-man" or counterfeit of Christianity.

8. Masters of the Pokemon world. One of you said, "A harmless GAME! Its not about people hurting people, its about animals "battling" animals. Even in the wild, animals attack each other, and no, its not JUST for food."

That’s true. But children who play the games and watch the program become the masters that direct those fights. The Pokemon may not always obey its trainer, but the humans are in charge. They decide what these "animals" should do to each other.

9. Genuine love. Someone said, "What I have come to find out talking to other people in the gaming community, they laugh at Christians because of attacks like your article. . . . you do not show them the love of Christ. You drive them from it! I write this in love and concern. You are not to judge, but reach out in love. I pray you take this to heart."

That command deals with people, not games or things. Throughout the Old and New Testament, God tells us to evaluate everything according to His standards and guidelines. He holds us responsible for knowing that Biblical standard and using discernment in everything we do.

Let me remind you, I didn’t judge you or anyone else. I analyzed a game, not people. Pokemon and the Magic cards from a Biblical perspective, then provide a helpful critique for those who would listen. If your neighbor’s house is burning one night, would it be more loving to let him sleep or to get him out of the fire?

10. Choosing the narrow road. I realize that the answers I am giving in response to your questions may be as offensive as my article. No one can really understand God’s truths or Scriptures unless His Spirit opens our minds to understand. That’s why there’s such a wide gap between my worldview and that which most of you expressed to me. The apostle Paul warned us about this difference in his letter to the Corinthians when he explained that "the message of the cross is foolishness" to those who reject God. (1 Cor. 1:18)

Those who know the God and long to walk that narrow road with Him can’t indulge in compromise. He tells us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:1-2)

To those who choose Him over all else, He promises incomparable peace, love, joy, and hope. And when the Lord – the sovereign King of the universe – becomes our personal Shepherd, He promises to provide for all our needs out of His wonderful abundance of riches and grace. He will be our shelter in the storms, our wisdom in today’s confusion, and our strength in the midst of all our battles. Nothing is impossible for Him. Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!