The Pokemon Invasion: How Bad Is It Really?

Magicarp. Kadabra. Jigglypuff. Snorlax. If these names aren¹t familiar to you, you might just be lucky that Pokemon hasn¹t invaded your home. That¹s because the Pokemon invasion is even scarier than the thought that Furbys might be Chinese spies.

Pokemon, short for Pocket Monsters, began as a Nintendo hand-held game and soon ballooned into the latest fad ‹ complete with a TV show, trading cards and sportswear ‹ in Japan. Soon, there were reports that 700 Japanese Children had experienced seizure-like reactions to one of the TV episodes in 1997. It now appears this number was seriously inflated, and that most of the children had non-specific reactions to the stimulus, including anxiety and panic. In the most recently published account by Japanese doctors who treated the children, there are, however four clearly documented cases of children with no history of epilepsy who experienced seizures.

Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, director of the Epilepsy Program at Beth Israel Medical Center, and chairperson of the Epilepsy Foundation of New York City, said: ³Scientists have been able to reproduce this type of stimulus in the EEG lab, with a measurable reaction.² He affirms that children can experience photo-sensitive induced seizures ‹ especially when exposed to the type of rapid photo photic stimulus, light patterns, and kinetic colors typical of the Japanese animation style known as Anime. Anime is also exemplified by exaggerated eyes (which I fondly associate with ³Speed Racer²), and excessive violence (which most parents are not fond of at all).

Regardless of any negative possibilities, Pokemon has enjoyed tremendous success since its American debut. To date, more than 2.5 million video games have been sold (at about $28 each). WB11 has added a second weekday and Saturday morning slot to the show¹s current 7am weekday schedule. Unofficial Pokemon websites, which tally well into the triple digits, receive as many as 4,000 visitors a day. Retail stores stocking Pokemon trading cards and authentic Japanese products just can¹t hold onto them. And the new wave of domestic merchandise, which includes figures and other Hasbro licensed products, is hitting the shelves.

While Pokemon has been enthusiastically welcomed by children, many educators and parents do not share the enthusiasm. Schools all around the New York area have proposed various bans to Pokemon products. One Westchester school forbids children to bring their games on the bus, because kids seem so distracted they kept missing their stops. Other schools prohibit the carrying of collector¹s cards, because children have been intimidated, ripped off, and even hurt by trades.


Sandy Penzak, assistant principal at my local Queens elementary school, was mortified by the thought of Pokemon triggering epilepsy. ³But it really isn¹t an issue for us,² she noted, ³since we don¹t allow games in school.² Their policy, voted in three years ago, prohibits the carrying of any type of electronics ‹ beepers, cell phones, portable stereos and hand-held games among them ‹ on school grounds.

Marilyn in the mother of a 10-year-old who is hooked on the trading cards. ³Scott has me running all over to find new cards for him, and it¹s almost impossible. He talks about characters all the time.² But talk is just about all Scott and his friends can do, since their school prohibits Pokemon (they even put a halt to South Park memorabilia, citing the show as exceedingly violent).

Andre is a 12-year-old enthusiast of the trading cards. ³But they¹re so expensive,² he noted, ³more than anything ‹ even the Beanies.² It is because kids like Andre and Scott will do anything to get their hands on the cards that so many schools have reacted.

Some parents, though, do feel Pokemon has redeeming value. Take Linda, mother of a boy who attends one of the four schools in the Pelham, New York area which all banned Pokemon. She thinks the cards encourage reading, the game uses math skills, and the cartoons manage to incorporate value lessons.

Scott is the father of a 13-year-old who can attest to Pokemon¹s popularity from the crowd which saturated the lobby and two levels of stairwells at the New Jersey mall expo they attended. ³Usually,² Scott said, ³we worry about our kids being hooked on video games because of isolation. But winning this one requires interaction. One night I came home and found Matthew and his three friends hooked up out on our front lawn. It was an eerie parody of adult socialization, something like when we play bridge.²

My own family only had one negative experience with Pokemon ‹ paying $6 at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for a purple bean bag toy which looks like the offspring of a monkey and a snake. It was forgotten two weeks later... when the Furby came home.