Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Monday, February 2, 2009


Lately my kids have gotten interested (I refuse to use the word "obsessed") with Pokemon cards. They bought some, then traded with a neighbor for more, and in only a week or two have accumulated a pack of about a hundred cards, which they play with frequently. They're so enthusiastic they managed to talk me into a game, and taught me how to play. They even checked a Pokemon comic book out from the library.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic, but the game left me cold. At first glance, it seems too ambiguous. (Funny for me, the queen of ambiguity!) Or maybe just arbitrary. Or I have trouble discerning the pattern of it, which I find disturbing. But I think most of all it's the level of implied violence.

This came into much clearer focus when I read the comic to them. The premise was that a strong criminal was stealing Pokemon from a group of peaceful kids, led by an old man, who kept their Pokemon from battle. The peaceful Pokemon thus could not evolve, and the peaceful peopole were helpless victims of violence. A kid who got his Pokemon into frequent battles comes along, and through a series of adventures nearly gets killed, and his Pokemon nearly gets killed with him. But this level of violence stimulates the kid's Pokemon to "evolve" to a bigger, badder, more violent … creature. The Pokemon saves the kid's life, and together they go back and kill the strongman and his Pokemon.

It is this concept that violence is necessary for improvement, and that the most violent, brutal creature is the most evolved creature, that I find so disturbing. From my own Christian background, raised to emulate the peaceful example of Jesus, to my deep admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Julia Butterfly Hill, to my current nonreligious spiritual efforts and imperfect study of Nonviolent Communication, this is antithetical to every value I hold dear, and to my own concept and philosophy of what is useful and healthy in life. When I see the concept of violence embodied in Pokemon, I fear that the generation of children we are raising will be unduly influenced toward the habits, philosophies, and mindsets that that have caused so much grief and pain in our world.

It is a test of faith, I suppose. I'm not willing to tell my kids they can't have them. The need for choice is too strong, and I would rather risk the influence of this insidious philosophy than provide an example of violent force by taking it away from them. I find instead, that I must trust – not only them, but the parenting that Kristin and I provide, and the Universal Love that inspires every human heart. I must trust that, given the example and comparison of these competing philosophies – that the most violent is the most evolved vs. that the most nonviolent is the most evolved – my children will choose the path that I hold dear. And if they don't, at least I have given them the freedom to make that choice.

I think they will make the choice I would prefer, ultimately. They're aware that Pokemon is a game, and that even the comic book is just fantasy, albeit a fantasy that I find profoundly disturbing and abhorrent. In the atmosphere of this family, and the unconditional love that nature and their parents provide, they are thriving.

But I'm not going to read that comic book again.


anne said...

Hi Girlie,

I told you that Max was obsessed, and I will use the word(!) with Pokemon, and also with Godzilla and Ninja Turtles and all kinds of very violent Japanese games and comics. I strongly suggest Bruno Betteheim's books on kids and violence and fantasy play. Apparently the kids tested who were kept from violence were more violent and those who were able to act out their violence in fantasy somehow worked through it in their heads and knew the difference between real violence and pretend violence.

It's a difficult issues with kids.

As for the evolution part, that's just a twisted way to look at the spiritual evolution path. The evolution of the spirit requires difficulty, whether impossible tasks enforced by a master, riddles, violent confrontation in controlled situations, or deprivation (fasting, etc) or some other extreme condition under which the spirit will emerge. One of the more simplistic versions of this journey is in confrontation with monsters or bad guys that you see in fairy tales, fantasy and martial arts all over the world. Gurus are often very abusive for this reason.

I'm convinced that this kind of work is work to free the will from the demands of the body. The triangle of body traps: sloth, lust and gluttony are only overcome through harsh discipline that is usually imposed at first from outside. It's sad that games like Pokemon are attractive enough to entice young people, yet unable to go the extra mile to raise the game above the level of domination. Eventually, every student learns that domination is only achieved through total submission. Only through total submission does one understand that the will is under one's own control.

This is often expressed in the West by the three-fold dwarves or seven dwarves or, among mystics, the four-fold way into five. (Tim Leary popularized this one.) Thus oral (gluttony also attachment and fear) anal (lust, also anger and fear) and verbal (sloth also avarice and deception) are overcome to rise into adulthood ready for marriage. On the mystic path, the fourth level, that of sexual congress and socialization is also recognized as something to overcome.

I think Pokemon was the point where I just waved my hand and said, "there is no way I'm memorizing these characters." But also, Seda, this game really appeals to kids just learning taxonomy. They are enamored with all the different characters and who they change into and what their powers are, etc. This is the age where kids either get into plant identification or tracking and understanding animals. In our modern society, something with a complex taxonomy like Pokemon is appealing.

But the appealing part is that the kids can do it and the adults don't like it!

My mom thought Superman and all were way too violent for us but that Buggs Bunny was not. But if you look at Buggs cartoons, they are exceptionally violent.

But my message to you, sweetie, is to put your foot down, refuse to read the comic to them, but don't worry about them playing the games--Max barely remembers the characters now and is a gentle giant.

Maybe we all have to go through the battlefield to want peace.


Well, I don't need any more battles! Neither do you, sweetie!

So we'll just be peaceful.


anne also said...

Hey Seda,

I talked with Max and he says that, actually, he does remember the Pokemon characters! Sigh. He says that to look at it in a different way. He says, yes, it's about violence, but more, it's about having control over your own evolution and getting better in terms of powers and skills that is attractive about the game.

I'd love to get Max together with all of them to quiz them and talk to them about it. He's as busy as I am!

hugs to you m'dear. We miss your words, but I know you've got a full plate. HAH!

take care, sweetie,

Anonymous said...

Violence in games is a tough call at some level. Why promote the opposite of what you stand for with NVC? But Anne has a point with the study that showed the violence levels in kids actually is higher when they are kept from outlets. It makes me wonder if we're all prone to violence from the beginning and need some form of an outlet? Maybe it's good to just talk about violence, and also good ways of handling anger... I'm sure you do a great job of that with your kids, or are trying. I know one thing, reading Alfie Kohn changed my perspective as well. Punished By Rewards was beyond fascinating, and knowing you through your blog has expanded my thinking on raising kids. Thanks for that. I don't know if this comment made much sense, but.. my brain has been a bit on overload lately. Ha. Be well Seda,

Seda said...

Yeah, I kinda came to the same place. It just doesn't seem right to use violence to keep kids from playing with violence. Anyway, they're in charge of their own lives, and I really want them to take that responsibility. Like you say, I don't have to like their choices along their path. But it's their path.

And believe me, I won't read that book again!

Glad you enjoyed Alfie. And yeah, playing with violence is a tricky one. I think violence is just a part of our reality. All animals are both victims and perpetrators of violence, at some level. Man is one of the few that perpetrate violence against our own kind. I think it is basic survival instinct. Play fighting is how children deal with things that go boo in the night, and empower themselves to deal with the cave bear or whatever they may encounter later. Even lambs play fight, butting heads.

So, I suppose you've got to go through that to get through it.

Whatever that means.

anne said...

Hey girlie,

I LOVE the new picture--very pretty!


Anonymous said...

your site is wonderful,
i am too an avid fan of pokemons for i am a kid at heart..
keep up the good work

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our