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NOVEMBER 22, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 20

Should Children Play with Monsters?
By LISA MCLAUGHLIN

    ALSO IN TIME
Cover: Pokémania
Their creator thinks of them as inner monsters, but the Pokémon have gone far beyond his mind to sweep Japan--and now the rest of the world
Review: The Man Who Just Didn't Get It
Psychology: Should Children Play with Monsters?
Strategy: A teenager explains the appeal
First Look: A sneak preview of the new characters

Online Exclusive: The Ultimate Game Freak
TIME speaks with Pokémon's creator Satoshi Tajiri

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Pokémon: The First Movie
If you go by word origins, a monster should demonstrate a moral, a lesson, a value. What values do the Pocket Monsters demonstrate? "Pokémon appeals to children's desire for mastery," says Stephanie Pratola, a child psychologist. "That begins to develop at age six or seven. There are so many things to master--the games, knowing all the rules for the cards, what makes a good trade." It's a world of expertise in which kids can revel, free from parents who don't understand the rules. Pratola says the marketers have taken huge advantage of this developmental niche among children, but she spreads the blame around. "You have to look at it in the context of our culture. We are all obsessed with acquiring things, and we can't expect our children to rise above our culture." She adds, "Children will always grab onto fads, but parents are helping to feed this artificial economy. I see parents who get sort of hopeless about what they can do in the face of something this large. I remind them there are kids who don't have any Pokémon and are just fine."

Psychologists in the U.S. tend to see Pokémon as relatively harmless, but warn of a need to be wary. A child who spends too much time on video games may not disengage from a simulated world and thus may be confused in the real one. And while card trading teaches social skills, it may also lead to obsessive behavior. "You don't know whether there's a valuable card in a pack when you buy it," says Maressa Hecht Orzack, founder of the Computer Addiction Service at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Children under eight aren't able to grasp this fact cognitively, which then leads to disappointment and an increased desire to buy more packs. Children overly anxious to please their peers are also at greater risk for addictive behavior. "Also make sure that your children are not being bullies while playing the card game," says Pratola. "Ask children about the trades they have made, and use this to teach them what it means to be fair and how to be a nice person."

Images © 1995, 1999 Nintendo/Creatures Inc./Game Freak Inc.; moving images by Adam Connors

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