Pokémon And Genesis — A Welcome Connection
To say that the Pokémon franchise has been popular and successful would be an understatement! I remember seeing the earliest commercials for the first-generation Gameboy games, not understanding what it was. Then one summer, I saw Pokémon cards for the first time at a church day camp. The franchise started out as a couple of video games, and then in a short time grew into a card game and a TV show. And that was just the beginning!
Since those early days, Pokémon has become a worldwide phenomenon! And the appeal is perfectly understandable!
The premise of the games is that players take on the role of a kid who is given his or her first Pokémon creature by a local professor and asked to help study the creatures that live in their world. Players travel around the countryside catching new Pokémon, battling other “Pokémon trainers,” and helping their Pokémon to grow stronger, while he or she grows as a trainer and as a person.
The games have an overwhelmingly positive value-orientation (a phrase I refer to a lot in my writing). Players are encouraged to study the natural world, and also to respect it. The bad guys (such as Team Rocket), on the other hand, seek to (negatively) exploit and abuse Pokémon. This is especially evident in the story arc of Mewtwo, an incredibly powerful Pokémon that was created by Team Rocket in a genetics lab and that subsequently escaped!
In addition to catching Pokémon in the wild, Trainers (including the players), trade Pokémon with each other. This represents important free-market economic principles. Namely, it shows kids that in a trade, both parties can benefit. (Trading is one important key to winning the game.)
Players raise and steward these Pokémon, helping their Pokémon to become stronger, and they are taught to do so with respect and dignity for these amazing creatures. They also go around battling gym leaders so that they can enter the Pokémon League.
In terms of science, players help the professor to complete the Pokédex, a digital encyclopedia of Pokémon that exist in their world. This often encourages kids to take interest in real-life animals with similar qualities. Talking about Pokémon could be a great way to encourage kids to learn without making learning feel like homework. In fact, when I was in college (as a biotech major), some of my classmates used Pokémon characters to explain concepts in biology to children.
Games in the Pokémon franchise also encourage problem-solving through critical thinking elements, and a sense of cooperation by working with other players to accomplish the goals of the game. As alluded to earlier, in order to complete the Pokédex encyclopedia, players have to trade with other players — and everyone benefits as a result! In the games, players also earn (fictional) money by accomplishing various tasks, and learn to budget what items they want to spend money on.
While there certainly are elements to the games that Christians may rightly object to, some of which relate to the traditional Japanese worldview, the concerns have definitely been blown out of proportion. This is something that I will address in more detail later on in this article.
The Genesis Connection
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
- Genesis 1:26–31 ESV
When we read in Genesis about how God created all of the creatures of the Earth, and then set man to be a steward and ruler over every living thing, it’s easy to get a sense of how things were meant to be versus how they are in a world impacted by Sin. Originally God created a world where humans would rule over and take care of the Creation and the creatures that live in it, without death, disease or suffering. But when Adam rebelled against God, everything changed.
The parallels between Pokémon and unfallen paradise then become obvious. In the world of Pokémon, players catch Pokémon and help them to grow. They can also breed Pokémon and raise them from eggs. There are also options to plant and farm berries, which can be used to heal various conditions.
Pokémon is obviously not intended to be a representation of Eden. After all, there are still bad guys and dangerous obstacles to overcome, as would be expected from any adventure game. But it’s also easy to see why human beings, who no longer live in Eden, would find a franchise that is reflective of our original native homeland so appealing. The game has far better qualities than most games that kids could be playing, including spiritual and moral qualities.
There are other video games out there (not including Pokémon) where players steal cars or shoot zombies, and these may have their place. But compare that to the Pokémon franchise, where kids are walking through the forest, helping a scientist to study plants and animals, and solving digital math problems that teach them how to budget their (fictional) money.
Of course, as with any piece of good fiction, there are some critiques to be had, but before I get into that, I want to press the importance of critical thinking, especially for Christians.
Critical Thinking and Discernment
When I was a kid, I saw Christians react to this franchise in irrational ways. For whatever reason, Christian mothers in particular had the idea that Pokémon were demons and that kids should stay away from the franchise. It’s sad that God’s people chose to abandon reason in favor of emotional hysteria like this, without taking the time to check their facts and to make sure that they had the correct information. We are told numerous times in Scripture to judge rationally using sound wisdom, and not to get carried away with our emotions.
Guarding Against Nice Spirituality — The Angel
Last night I had a nightmare where I was watching a movie trailer for a film called “The Angel.” As far as I am aware…
I am not trying to insult Christians or Christian mothers here (to whom we should be thankful for many things), but this is an important issue that needs to be pointed out. It’s a tragedy that most people in the larger society see Christianity as irrational. And is it any wonder? When Christians act in ways that are irrational, people come away with the impression that Christianity is irrational.
Children who grow up in the Church usually go to public school, where they are taught that Christianity is a backwards worldview. Children are told that Christians in centuries past were stupid and irrational people who held science back. They are then given reasons to embrace Secular Humanism instead. Churches ought to be correcting the record for children with the facts of history (i.e. Science was born out of a Christian Worldview, not in-spite of it). Instead, more often than not, the stereotype of an irrational and stupid emotion-based superstition is upheld in nearly every part of Christian culture. Instead of showing kids how the facts of history support the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and bringing in geneticists and paleontologist to talk about the evidence for Creation, most churches present Christianity as something that is believed because of feelings. This is reinforced by silly flannelgraph “Bible Story” cartoons, and youth groups that have lots of pizza, but no intellect or apologetics.
There is a lot more that I could say on this, but when Christians embrace irrationality, they are committing a sin, first off against God, and then against themselves, but also against the next generation, whom they should be training to think rationally. Rather than teaching children to “test all things” and to exercise sound wisdom, far more often, Christians demonstrate an irrational emotionalism, especially to the upcoming generation. This is not good.
Since I seek objectivity, there are criticisms to the Pocket Monsters franchise worth addressing in brief. I am a fan of this franchise, however even the best fiction is worthy of some critique.
For one thing, if I were in charge of creating new Pokémon characters, I would focus on real animals that exist in the real world for inspiration. I would make Pokémon based on the platypus, tardigrades, or green sea slugs. (In fact, the logo for my website, GreenSlugg.com is a Pokémon-style drawing of such a creature.) But instead of focusing on real and interesting organisms, the creators of the franchise have an ice cream cone Pokémon and a trash bag for a Pokémon. Who wanted that as part of the games? Nobody.
In terms of pagan and objectionable elements, these are typically in the background of the game. So far, the very worst thing that I’ve seen is a Pokémon called “Spiritomb” which was introduced in “Generation 4” of the games. This Pokémon is supposed to be the result of 108 spirits that were bound to a stone “as punishment for misdeeds 500 years ago.” (Sounds like some SJWs were involved in this one.)
Spiritomb ( Japanese: ミカルゲ Mikaruge) is a dual-type Ghost/ Dark Pokémon introduced in Generation IV. It is not known to…
Personally, I don’t think that a backstory along these lines was necessary. This character could have been designed without the overly dark elements, especially for a game that is designed for kids.
Given the traditional worldview of Japanese culture and their beliefs about kami (little spirits or gods that inhabit things in the world all around us), it is no surprise that some of these elements would be found in a game originating in Japan. If that rock, and that tree, and that pond are believed to be inhabited by a spirit, then is it any surprise that this would be reflected in their works of fiction?
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Pokémon games is the “Type” system. Pokémon are described with certain “Types,” i.e. elements that are associated with their biology. Some Pokémon are water types, some are electric types, fire types, ground types, or even rock or grass types. Not all Pokémon are animals, some are plants or even rocks. But some are also described as being psychic, ghost, or dark types.
Again, as someone who writes fiction myself, and who enjoys world-building and storytelling, I really have to ask how much some of these dark literary elements are necessary. No one wants to play a game where all of the creatures do nothing but sit around and have a tea party all day, especially boys who have a God-given drive for adventure. But I do think there are ways to create conflict and danger within a story that don’t have to push the boundaries with darkness quite so much.
Anyone who has read my speculative fiction stories could rightly point out that I am no stranger to having dark elements in a story. After all, I have a story about a water monster that lures children to the river, and another about a vampire conversing with a dictator. That said, I still think that it is weird to go and catch a ghost-type grim-reaper-look-alike Pokémon (even though these are not necessarily ghosts in the usual sense of the term) so that one can be friends with it.
I could see Christians criticizing some of the other “types” here as well, such as the dragon or poison types. But keep in mind that God created dragons in the Bible and called them “good” from the beginning, and there are living things today that are poisonous.
Clearly, I’ve addressed a lot of issues here that may seem to run counter to one another. There are the positive and Edenic elements of Pokémon, but also the negative elements and the irrational reaction to the franchise. The proper response to such things is not emotionalism, but reason. Saying, “I feel this or that is good or bad, and therefore…” is not the model we are taught in Scripture. Instead, we should look at the facts of any given situation, and recognize that there might be elements of books, movies, or other forms of fiction that we might not agree with.
We should recognize that children are growing individuals that will have to learn how to exercise discernment. They should not be exposed to things that are blatantly inappropriate or harmful, but neither should they be cocooned in Christian bubble wrap. The only solution then is to teach them why we know the Bible to be true, using reason and evidence, and to teach them how to critically analyze the world around them.
Pokémon is a positive game franchise with elements that Christian parents can encourage their children to analyze with critical thought. That does not mean that these games are for everyone. Each parent must exercise their own discernment. My goal here is not to say that all Christians must embrace a particular video game. But I do want to emphasize that it is important for Children to see Christian adults modeling sound wisdom and rationality, and not knee-jerk emotionalism.
Overall, I think that the Pokemon franchise is excellent in terms of the fiction and world-building. This is a franchise that has given joy to many people, especially kids, and I hope that it is around for many generations to come. The positive value-orientation is an aspect that Christians can embrace.
A lot of this comes down to discernment, even for Christians who are young. When Christians read Greek Mythology, we take it for what it is, good stories written by people who did not necessarily share all of our values, but which have value as good stories. We ask ourselves “What in the story do I agree with, and what do I disagree with, and why?” Even the Apostle Paul quoted Plato in at least a few passages of the New Testament, and when he went to Mars Hill, he pointed to their monument set up in honor of the “unknown god” as a basis to preach the gospel to the people in this pagan community, starting from what could be plainly seen and understood from Creation.
In talking about Eden and the appeal of Pokémon, I am reminded of the evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson who remarked on how people of all ages from all cultures are fascinated by other living organisms. We even decorate our homes and work areas often to reflect the natural beauty of a forest or savannah. Dr. Wilson argued that this is a reflection of the environment we evolved in. As a Christian with a career in the life sciences, I argue that this is an imperfect reflection of the paradise we lost in Eden.
Paul and his use of Greek Philosophy
Out of the 27 books, epistles and letters that make up the New Testament, 13 have been authored by the Apostle Paul…
Given what I’ve presented here about the negative elements I see in the franchise, some parents may exercise reason and choose not to let their kids play these games. I respect that choice as valid and rational. My purpose here is to present an opinion on this franchise, and on that opinion, people are free to hold to a contrary view. Please don’t confuse passion with dogmatism. On the other hand, I will be dogmatic about the need to exercise reason and discernment in the Christian life, and to point out that these are standards God calls us to uphold. The importance of rationality and discernment are not mere opinions that we are free to take or reject.
Of all of the video game franchises to choose from, Pokémon is one of the franchises with the strongest positive value-orientation. Some of these values include respecting, preserving, and studying nature and also seeking to grow as a better person. We might call these Edenic values. While I may have my critiques, overall, this is a franchise that Christians can and should embrace, in much the same way that the Apostle Paul embraced Plato.