- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

TOLEDO, Ohio

When it comes to the Pokemon trading-card craze, the Rev. Tom Clapsaddle would probably love to "catch 'em all." But he's no fan of the fad.

In fact, the children's pastor of Solid Rock Ministries won't allow the popular cards in church, unless they're about to be laid upon the altar by repentant church youths.

He and the Rev. Keith Stepp, pastor of Solid Rock, also have asked donors to the church's Christmas basket drive not to buy them for recipients.

"We forbid kids bringing them to church because what's happened is, instead of paying attention in class, kids would be playing with these cards," Mr. Clapsaddle said. "We've had situations where parents would bring kids to church and the kids would skip coming to Sunday school class to go out and mess with the cards."

According to a report in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, a rabbi also banned the cards from his synagogue because he said the trades were distracting children from what is supposed to be the sabbath focus on family, community, God and Torah.

He said negotiations for the trades also were starting to look like commercial transactions, which are forbidden on the Sabbath.

Solid Rock's Mr. Clapsaddle is not only concerned about children's becoming distracted by or obsessed with their Pokemon cards, however. He also worries about the message the cards are sending.

"We're trying to teach children the right way and teach them that God is who He is. God is God."

Pokemon cards, he said, teach a child that he is master of their universe, a principle that conflicts with the sovereignty of God and with the commandment to honor their parents.

The Pokemon craze, which is based on exotic creatures of the same name, got its start in Japan as a Nintendo Game Boy game that has since spawned multiple versions and sold millions of copies.

There also is a Pokemon TV show and a plethora of products including posters, stickers, T-shirts, figures, model kits, coloring books, key chains, backpacks and lunch boxes.

But the shining star among them all is Pokemon: The Card Game, which has devotees chanting, "Gotta catch 'em all. Gotta catch 'em all," and obsessing over their trades. The goal of the game, in which each competitor assumes the role of a Pokemon trainer, is to capture all the Pokemon creatures and become a Pokemon master.

Proponents of the fad claim the Pokemon games have gotten children away from video games and TV and into an activity that requires them to read books, engage in strategic thinking, and learn negotiation skills for trades. And, they say, the Pokemon games contain only mild violence.

However, critics say they are addictive and cause conflict between parents and children. Some also have expressed concerns that because the Pokemon figures include characters that suggest supernatural powers apart from God, they may provide children with an entree into witchcraft and the occult.

"The mere presence of ghosts and 'psychic' characters may effectively nix Pokemon for some families," says a report from Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs, Colo. "In all cases, caution and moderation are key."

The Focus on the Family report, which appears on its Web site (www.family.org), advises parents to watch for warning signs of addiction in children who already are playing the game and to take into account each child's personality, peers, and level of self-discipline and maturity.

If children are not yet involved with the game, it says, parents should carefully consider whether to buy the child a Pokemon starter set.

Bob Waliszewski, manager of Focus on the Family's youth-culture department which normally reviews films, CDs and television shows pitched at teens said after conducting a study of the Pokemon phenomenon, he has concluded that, at least based on the first 151 cards in the trading-card game, it is pretty much innocuous.

However, he does have concerns about Pokemon, among them that the fad robs children of time better spent doing other things.

Mr. Waliszewski said he has seen the Pokemon movie and TV show and thought they were more boring than problematic.

"I cannot imagine what the draw is."

He said he and his 9-year-old son, Trevor, watched about 20 minutes of the TV show before they agreed to turn it off. His son, he said, has no interest in the Pokemon cards. "If he wanted it, I wouldn't have a problem with it, but I'm not going to encourage it."

Solid Rock's Mr. Clapsaddle bases his case against Pokemon cards on both the Focus report and an article by author Berit Kjos, a parent who has written extensively about neo-pagan and occult influences in education.

Miss Kjos' article, which is posted on her Internet site (www.crossroad.to), takes a strong stand against the Pokemon games, citing what she says is their emphasis on evolution, supernatural powers and poisoning opponents.

Miss Kjos writes that playing with Pokemon cards can stir children's interest in other kinds of occult role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Such games, she says, blur the line between fantasy and reality by training children to use "spiritual powers" in mythical battles and hardening their consciences to the value of life. Children who become addicted to the games, she writes, can begin to seek bigger thrills and darker forces.

"I just have a bad feeling all the way around about the thing," Mr. Clapsaddle said. "These kids see enough bad stuff out on the street without having to bring bad things in. I'm trying to give them a positive thing, where I believe these are negative things."

Mr. Clapsaddle said he has given parents the articles from Focus on the Family and Miss Kjos and asked them to cooperate with the ban on the cards. He said some of the children have resisted, but others have decided on their own to give up the cards.

"We've seen God have breakthroughs in several of the kids. Kids have brought them up to the altar and laid them on the altar. We've never forcefully taken the cards from the kids. We explain to them what it's all about."

Recently, he said, two children put a large stack of Pokemon cards on the altar. Once relinquished, the cards are burned, he said.

Mr. Waliszewski said he takes a slightly different view. Although he agreed to have his department study Pokemon along with the popular Harry Potter books because of the intense interest in them, his real passion when it comes to entertainment and the media culture is to go after bigger targets like gangsta rap, rock groups Korn and Limp Bizkit, and teen-"sexploitation"films like "American Pie," "Varsity Blues" and "Scream."

"If you're going to impact the culture at large in entertainment, let's start on a scale of one to 10 with the 10," he said. "An album that advocates killing your mother is not good for kids. Let's start there and find agreement there."

"Then, as we want to work down the scale, we'll find it easier to have credibility," he said. "But if you start with the Harry Potter books, you've lost so many people right off the bat, you'll never get to Korn, 'Varsity Blues,' or 'Scream 3.' "

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