As my Catholic Answers colleague Jimmy Akin responded to a caller on Catholic Answers Live, Pokémon cards and “Pokémon Go” are not, strictly speaking, Satanic.
And yet both have elements that lead us to not recommend participation in either.
The word “Pokémon” is an abbreviation for “pocket monster.” Pokémon characters are featured in trading cards, games, figures, cartoon series and on clothing. And, in more recent years, in the Pokémon Go game. The first Pokémon characters were released in November 1999, and several sequels followed. The television series centers around a boy, “Ash Catchem,” and his friends. At the opening of each daily cartoon episode, Ash stands and lifts his eyes heavenward as he pledges to follow the quest to become a Pokémon Master.
Ash and his friends are trying to capture and possess as many of the 150 Pokémon characters as possible, which they store in their pockets in “Pokémon balls.” The Pokémon balls are then trained and “evolved” to another higher level. The aspiring trainers do this by waging battles with their Pokémon characters against other kids.
Simply the “fighting” between Pokémon players might raise concerns among some parents, although, to be fair, kids can also play other make-believe battles with toy guns without harmful moral effects. However, there more troubling religious and moral overtones to Pokémon. For example, there is the focus on “energy centers” and “energy sources” necessary for the evolution of a Pokémon character. For example, “Charmander” is a cute little figure so named because he emanates fire (“Char”) and in some ways resembles a salamander. Charmander evolves into “Charmelian,” a more menacing “chameleon-like” creature, and evolves again into the higher level of “Charizard,” a fire-breathing dragon.
When a Pokémon is about to evolve, it needs extra energy. Depending on the kind of Pokémon it is, it can draw from seven sources of energy to help it attack in battle. These energy centers are:
Psychic—as represented by a purple, all-seeing eye.
Earth—which is represented by a leaf on a green card.
Lightning—a lightning bolt on a yellow card.
Fighting— represented by a clenched fist on a brown card.
Fire—flame on a red card.
Water—a drop of water on a blue card.
Star—representing double energy to any Pokémon.
While many of these “energy centers” may seem harmless in themselves, there is a striking resemblance to the Hindu religion. According to Hinduism, there are seven “energy centers” or “chakras.” The forces of nature, such as earth, fire, and water are also fundamentals of many Eastern religions. Many of these religions are pantheistic, meaning they do not acknowledge the one, true, omnipotent God who is Creator of all and Lord over all. Rather, they believe that “God” is a pervasive power, similar to “the Force” of Star Wars movie fame. Thus, they worship this force and those creatures and “deities” that excel in mastering this “force.” This pantheistic outlook is present in the Pokémon characters and games, as the goal is to have the characters acquire power and thereby evolve into higher beings.
Pantheism is also a fundamental tenet of the New Age movement. In addition, there are other New Age themes in the Pokémon cards and games. For example, here are a few of the Pokémon characters’ names and descriptions:
Drowzee—puts enemies to sleep and “eats their dreams.”
Abra—using its ability to read minds, it will identify impending danger and transport to safety (Abra evolves into Kadabra).
Kadabra—it emits special alpha waves from its body that induce headaches in others.
Jynx—uses meditation to launch powerful psychic energy attacks.
Haunter—because of its ability to slip through block walls, it is said to be from another dimension.
Gastly—same powers as Haunter.
Psyduck—while lulling its enemies with its vacant look, this wily Pokémon uses psychokinetic powers against its enemies.
The Catholic Church condemns all involvement with magic and necromancy. If Pokémon games contributed to the summoning of demons or spirits or explicitly encouraged involvement in the occult, one would have to condemn them as quickly as the Church does Ouija boards, tarot cards and other forms of divination (see CCC 2115-17). In contrast to actual divination, though, Pokémon operates wholly in the realm of fantasy and does not attempt to cross the line into reality.
Fantasy is not necessarily bad. J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, wrote The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy devoted to viewing the world of fantasy and “magic” through a Christian lens. He proved, as did C.S. Lewis in his science fiction series, that fantasy and religion are not two wildly disparate ideals. Rather, fantasy used in the proper context can be a tool to gain a deeper understanding of religion.
However, even though the Pokémon games are not a form of formal divination, one cannot therefore conclude that the games and associated Pokémon materials are without problems. While, Pokémon may seem on the surface to be harmless games for children and adults, one should recognize the elements of New Age, Hindu, pantheistic, and morally relativistic thought found in the games. Given its problematic religious and moral associations, the fantasizing that Pokémon encourages is not edifying and harmonious with Christianity as that of Tolkien and Lewis are.
There is another consideration in this regard. When Pokémon creatures evolve to a higher level, many of them change sexes, going from female to male, or male to female, without there being anything seemingly unusual about this change in gender. Such gender transformation is reflective of non-Christian belief in reincarnation, not authentic Christian teaching. In reality, of course, boys do not become girls and girls do not become boys; and yet there is a further concern in this regard, given the growing and misguided “transgender movement” and its related philosophy.
Another issue is the money spent on the games. Because Pokémon is structured to encourage people to spend money on rare cards, movies, and toys, parents and children can be challenged to limit spending, especially for those involved in the collecting aspect of the games. God calls us to be good stewards of our resources, including time and money.
Some have argued that participation in Pokémon Go games have led people to visit Catholic churches. We recognize that the Good Lord can use various means to lead people to him and his Church (Rom. 8:28). Still, one must make proper moral distinctions in such cases and not overlook the problems of Pokémon games.
In summary, while children and adults may play Pokémon and perhaps not be adversely affected, we cannot recommend the collecting of Pokémon cards, playing Pokémon games, and watching Pokémon cartoons. Children and adults can spend their time in ways that are more conducive to their healthful development, and parents can spend money on more edifying fare for their children.