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.