Pokemon mania sweeps United States
October 14, 1999
(CNN) -- "I will be a Pokemon master!"
That's the battle cry of a character in the Japanese cartoon/GameBoy/trading-card franchise that has powered past Beanie Babies to become the top kid collectable and compulsion of the moment.
Now most children want to be Pokemon Masters too, it seems.
If you have little kids, you know more about this than you'd probably like, but here's a primer.
"Pokemon translates into pocket monster," says 10-year-old Devin Luccier.
Along with their own TV show and hand-held electronic game, these pocket monsters now are featured on some Volkswagens and jumbo jets, with a movie set for a November 12 release and candy due in stores any day now.
They are portrayed as lovable mutants that evolve and fight. You catch them, you train them, and in return they gobble up Mom and Dad's disposable income.
"Whoever figured this out was definitely a genius," says Pokemon parent Theresa Tortomasi.
A huge hit in Japan, the little monsters crossed the Pacific and rang up $1 billion in product sales in the United States in just a year.
"There's almost nothing that a kid can have that is not a Pokemon thing," said child psychiatrist John Lochridge.
Lochridge worries that Pokemon's creators and marketers deliberately set out to create a fantasy world so compelling that children would quickly become obsessed.
"What seems to be happening is that the kids are brainwashed," he said.
"They cannot think about anything else, they cannot do their school work. They talk all day long about (Pokemon). They are trading cards surreptitiously, I think. And so I think it has kind of taken over their minds, in a sense."
Many teachers have come to agree, and as a result, schools all over the United States are beginning to ban Pokemon.
Some teachers confiscate GameBoys to prevent Pokemon distractions at school.
"As far as I know, since the last 10 years that I have been principal, I haven't had to put a ban on a specific toy," said Principal Alice Strouder. "But this one, we had to."
But ask some of the children who have accounted for some 4 million Pokemon GameBoy cartridge sales in the U.S., and they will tell you that Pokemon is healthy and educational.
After all, they say, there's no real violence. And the worst thing that can happen to a fighting Pokemon is that it faints.
"It's not one of those shoot-em-up, bam-bam sorta games," said 11-year-old Trevor Tortomasi. "It's really cute, cute characters, like, I just like it."
Pokemon parents literally line up behind their children in support of what some of them call a benign if expensive hobby.
"I mean, as long as they get their school work done, hey, Pokemon out!" says parent Diana Fabrega.
Theresa Tortomasi says it brings children together.
"Any kid can get together with any other kid, it doesn't matter where they are from, what they look like, nothing," she says.
"It's like, "You play Pokemon? You play?' Boom. Instant friends. It's great."
Many parents stood in line for several hours on a recent Saturday in Burbank, so their kids could download the prized 151st Pokemon, Mew, and give a hug to the popular Pikachu.
Some grown-ups admit they enjoy the game themselves.
"My kids got me into it," said Kelly Kimball. "They brought me a game so I could take it on my business trips, and within three hours I was addicted to it.
"So I have all the Pokemon now, and I fight with the kids and the Pokemon all the time, and I'm the most popular kid in school."
There are Pokemon tournaments and card-swap meets.
But for all the parents who enjoy playing Pokemon with their progeny, child psychiatrist John Lochridge says there are plenty more who are having problems with it.
"I have had parents tell me that they cannot get their kids to do anything except Pokemon, so this stuff seems to really capture their minds, in a way," Lochridge says.
"So I don't think they're going to listen very much to our logic that they don't need Pokemon. They're just going to have to be told 'no.'"In time, the pocket monsters likely will be gone and forgotten like Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But right now, they're thriving with a new GameBoy cartridge coming out this month.
CNN Correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.
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