Pokémon banished from another playground
October 5, 1999
"They trade cards like baseball cards," Thomas La Valley, principal of the Johnson School in Nahant, Massachusetts, tells a local newspaper of his students. "But they are doing it at recess when they are supposed to be eating and in class when they are supposed to be learning."
La Valley's teachers have been ordered to confiscate any cards they find. They're to be returned to students at the end of the day.
Similarly, school officials in New York, New Jersey, Washington and New Hampshire have ejected the cards from their campuses. So what is it about the Pokémon ethos that has captured children's imaginations?
Concerns -- and sales -- widen
Each card pictures one of some 150 Pokémon characters, each said to possess special powers and abilities to help a player knock out a competitor's creatures.
As any good "Pokédex" on the Web can tell you, some of the lead critters are:
The main vehicle of the Pokémon gospel is a daytime television show.
"Part of why kids love this show so much is because it's something that they own," says Donna Friedman, senior vice president of Kids WB, which airs the show "Pokémon" at 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. "It's a whole world that only they understand."
Of course, the kids own it in their hearts; corporations like the WB and others own it in financial terms. Pokémon parent Nintendo has sold more than six million games in the United States in a single year. Today, Pokémon is a $1 billion industry in the U.S. and $5 billion more around the world. Part of that success may be because the games and television series seem to appeal to both boys and girls.
"We're hearing from parents that this is great," says Beth Llewelyn, of Nintendo of America Inc. "They start playing it with their kids because that's the only way they can understand it, so we're getting moms and dads and kids playing together."
The charm of that concept is in the eye of the manufacturing beholder. Some parents say they find their younglings' day-trading obsession with Pokémon to be a disturbingly materialist venture that encourages competition and an endless drive to acquire more cards, games, stuffed animals, key chains, collector books and other paraphernalia.
Moms tell of their kids saving $10 to buy a pack of Pokémon cards, only to find that there are maybe just two "good" cards in the deck, meaning cards they can use as valuable in trading with friends.
"A good introduction to the term 'rip-off,'" one mother describes it.
Coming to a theater near your kid
But the economic powers of those little Pokémon characters are about to expand with the release of the animated "Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back" on November 12. In the film, Mewtwo is a genetically engineered Pokémon, created from the cells of the rarest creature on Earth.
And as Hollywood marketers can tell you, nothing is so fine a creature to retailers than a film that moves merchandise.
Susan Robertson of Hasbro says the company had high expectations for Pokémon from the beginning, but "I will admit that the speed with which the phenomenon has spread across the country has been a little bit surprising."
Unrelated to the educational-interference issue of school bannings, a Los Angeles attorney has filed suit against Nintendo, alleging the trading cards are a form of gambling.
In response, Nintendo has released a statement that reads: "We are generally familiar with the cases that have been filed by these plaintiffs' attorneys in the past. To our knowledge, none of these cases has been successful in asserting that collecting trading cards is a form of illegal gambling. We see no reason to expect a different result in this case."
The National Parenting Center sees Pokémon in a positive light, awarding the game its seal of approval. And the future looks bright for the lucrative phenomenon, with two more Pokémon games on the way -- the first arriving this month -- and anticipation mounting for next month's opening of the film.
And as more school officials question whether the presence of the cards can be disruptive on campuses, there seems little corporate effort to veil the Pokémon commercial intent. As the show's jingle instructs children watching: "Gotta catch 'em all!"
CNN Entertainment Correspondent Dennis Michael contributed to this report.
"Pokémon," the television show, is a Warner Bros. property aired on its network, the WB. "Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Fights Back" is distributed by Warner Bros., a sister Time Warner company to CNN.com.
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