This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first appearance of Pokemon. In the years since we were introduced to these pocket monsters they have invaded every area of pop culture. You can get Pokemon cards, computer games, TV shows, movies, and every sort of collectable. And if that’s not enough they you can always turn to the news and see what controversy they have generated.
Here are ten of the wildest reasons that Pokemon turned into news stories.
10 Peta Objections
If you break down Pokemon to its most basic level it is a game that involves people, often children, capturing animals and forcing them to participate in brutal battles. Of course the game and tv series show the bonds that develop between Pokemon and their trainers but for some this just makes the exploitation of Pokemon all the more reprehensible. This is where Peta – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – comes in.
Peta has a long history of provocative actions when it comes to getting their pro-animal message across. Comparing eating meat to the Holocaust was a particular low point. When it came to Pokemon Peta knew it had to act to stop the (virtual) cruelty.
In 2012 to protest the release of Pokemon: Black and White they created their own game. Called Pokemon: Black and Blue it was supposed to teach children that instead of ‘catch them all’ they should ‘free them all.’ Unfortunately the game taught children the dangers of playing hastily put together flash games online.
When Pokemon Go came out years later Peta declared that no Pokemon could be caught on their property.
9 Banned in Saudi Arabia
In 2001 the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, on of the nations most powerful figures, issued a Fatwa against a dangerous new foe. The enemy of the country and Islam as a whole was Pokemon. According to the Mufti the game encouraged Zionism. Apparently the cards included “the star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel’s national emblem.” There were also apparently links to Freemasonry that were worrying.
Other aspects of the game that caused concern were its use of words like evolution. “Astonishingly, the children frequently use the word ‘evolution’ inside and outside the game.” Despite having nothing to do with what a scientist would understand as evolution just the mere mention of the word is sufficient to make the game unmentionable.
The ban was mostly forgotten until 2016 however when some Saudis began to download Pokemon Go – bringing Pokemon directly to the streets of Saudi Arabia. The un-Islamic game was banned in Saudi Arabia but some players still found ways to illegally download it.
Companies have to be incredibly careful when they enter new markets that they don’t make culturally insensitive mistakes. Ford’s Pinto was a flop in Brazil when it turned out pinto meant ‘small penis.’
In 2000 Carole Boston Weatherford wrote an op-ed after seeing an episode of Pokemon. “The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children’s book long ago purged from libraries.”
Whether the appearance of Jynx was intentionally a racially insensitive parody is not known. To avoid causing further offence however Nintendo, the makers of Pokemon, changed Jynx’s skin colour from black to purple.
7 Uri Geller Sues
Uri Geller is one of the most famous psychics in the world. Using what he claims are supernatural powers he has made his fortune from, among other things, showing how with just a waggle of his fingers he can bend a spoon.
Although psychic Uri Geller was unable to foresee that his image would be appropriated for a Pokemon character. Known in English as Kadabra the psychic Pokemon is shown wielding spoons as a sign of its power. This might not have been enough to tip off Geller had Kadabra’s name in Japanese been ‘Yungera’ – very similar to how Geller’s own name is transliterated into Japanese.
Geller filed a $60 million lawsuit against Nintendo claiming they had stolen his identity and turned him into a dark figure. In response Nintendo removed Kadabra from Pokemon cards worldwide. In 2020 Geller finally relented and gave his blessing to Kadabra. It may be the spoon carrying Pokemon will be featuring on cards again soon.
6 Pokemon Go(es to inappropriate place)
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that lets users hunt for Pokemon against the backdrop of the real world. When it launched it was an immediate success and saw players taking billions of extra steps as they roamed their neighbourhoods in search of raw Pokemon. The game encouraged people to discover their local area by turning sites of interest into Pokestops where in-game treats could be picked up.
Unfortunately not all the sites the game picked out were really appropriate for a light-hearted Pokemon battle. Those in Washington DC’s Holocaust Museum could find three Pokestops among the displays about the evils of the Nazi regime. There were also cases of Pokemon popping up where they weren’t wanted there. Koffing, a poison gas Pokemon, was caught in a room describing how people were slaughtered in the gas chambers of concentration camps. The museum looked for ways to be taken out of the game.
Of course perhaps players should take some of the blame. If you are visiting Auschwitz then perhaps you shouldn’t be hunting for Rattata.
5 Teaching Evolution
Evolution is one of science’s greatest triumphs. Few theories have as much evidence supporting them as evolution does. Hardly any aspect of biology or medicine makes sense unless viewed through the lens of evolutionary theory. That is perhaps why scientists get a bit touchy when people question evolution’s validity.
Pokemon has from its earliest incarnations involved evolution – of a sort. If you train your Pokemon hard enough and get them to the right level then they will “evolve” into a new Pokemon. Really “metamorphose” would be a more accurate word as evolution doesn’t work on individuals but populations but evolution is the word Nintendo chose and that’s what riled up Christian fundamentalists.
Fundamentalist are not as fun as their name suggests (though they may be mental) and some saw Pokemon as a tool being used to teach children evolution. If it was designed for teaching evolution it was not very intelligently designed however as no scientist would call Pikachu turning into Raichu an evolution.
4 Card Scams
In times of crisis certain commodities always go up in value because they are always useful. Gold is usually the go-to purchase for jumpy investors but sometimes it is a much less obvious product they buy into. Recently Pokemon cards have sky rocketed in value – and the number of scams associated with them has blown up too.
Some people collect Pokemon cards because they are cool or they spark a bit of nostalgia but Chris Camillo bought into the cards because he had studied the market and thought there was money to be made. With a single Charizard going for over $200000 there certainly are some cards that can be worth a fortune. So live on YouTube he swapped $375,000 for one unopened box of Pokemon cards that should have been stuffed full of rarities.
Instead the box had already been opened and raided for any cards of value. Camillo was lucky in that he kept his money after the scam was realised but others who are splashing the cash on Squirtles and Blastoises are less lucky.
What does Pokemon have to do with the Prince of Hell? Nothing, you might think, but certain eagle-eyed Christians have pointed out the myriad ways that Pokemon has links to Satan.
Did you know that Pokemon were specifically designed to look like the demons that were once featured in medieval books used by witches? No? Well, of course they weren’t but that didn’t stop some claiming that Pokemon literally were demons. Why else would they have horns and magical powers? Some pastors thought that Pokemon were a slippery slope that would lead children into researching aspects of the occult.
Urban legends sprang up that supposedly proved the demonic nature of Pokemon. Some said that the spooky music heard in the game when players visited Lavender Town had caused children to commit suicide. Others shared an interview with the creator of Pokemon that stated he made the game in direct opposition to Christianity – though of course this was a complete fabrication.
With the release of Pokemon Go one Pastor thought that “this technology will be used by the enemies of the cross to target, locate, and execute Christians.” Fortunately thus far Satanists have resisted the urge to use Pokemon Go as a means of attacking the holy.
On the evening of December 16, 1997 several million children settled down to watch an episode of Pokemon on Japanese TV. The episode “Denno Senshi Porygon” saw the characters on the show transported to a virtual world where they fought a Pokemon called Porygon. At the climax of the battle Pikachu unleashed one of his electrical attacks and the screen lit up with flashing red and blue images – and moments later children began to collapse.
At least that is the story as it was reported. It is undeniable that flashing lights can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy but many people with no form of epilepsy apparently fell victim to the episode. What seems to have happened is that word of some people’s reactions spread and when more children watched the episode the next day they mirrored the seizures.
In what was probably a case of mass hysteria the seizures, though real, had nothing to do with the images on the TV. One follow up study found that most people who had seizures reported no further symptoms up to three years after the episode was aired.
1 Pokemon Go Deaths
Pokemon Go was a huge success. Millions of people downloaded the app and it changed people’s lives. Some people made new friends as they hunted Pokemon together, others found spouses. Some people lost weight as they walked around and some people found it helped with their depression as it gave them a reason to leave the house. But among all the joys the game brought there were a number of tragedies.
The first death attributed to the game was when a man in San Francisco was shot while out playing late at night. Other players were shot at when they broke into private properties to catch super rare Pokemon. It also turns out that walking around with your phone constantly out makes you a target for robbers. A number of players were mugged at gunpoint or found themselves faced with knives.
Many players also chose to ignore the warning in the game that it should never be played while driving. One distracted player had the bad luck to hit a police car while playing behind the wheel. One study of the potential damage caused by the game suggested Pokemon Go may have caused up to $7 billion in damages and caused hundreds of extra deaths. No Pokemon is rare enough to be worth a human life. Unless it is unusually shiny…