Are Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! okay games for Christians to play?
Any form of entertainment, whether it be sports, watching movies, or playing games, poses a threat to our spiritual health when our attention, interest, or increasing time commitment to it overshadows our devotion to God. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12, "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything."
When it comes to involvement with culture, Christians can tend to fall into one of two camps: either jumping into activities with both feet without thought, or defaulting to avoidance with little or no research. Neither is a very biblical approach. Every Christian can rely on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit for guidance, and often what is permissible for one Christian may be harmful for another (Romans 14:15). We should excise and avoid things in our life that are harmful to us (1 Corinthians 6:12), but wisely think through our decisions (Proverbs 18:13). In regards to Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, Christians should ultimately seek wisdom from God (James 1:5) about how much involvement, if any, they should allow.
There is no obvious, blatant immorality in Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! games. However, there may be some cause for concern.
Both Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! are based in a fantasy world where combat and competition between monsters involve elements of magic. Players collect cards, or representations of cards online, and use them to battle other players and gain even more cards. It takes skill and luck to win. And money. Both the computer-based games and the card-based games can rack up expenses quickly. To gain more leverage in the game, more cards must be acquired—either by winning them or purchasing them. Christians are expected to be good stewards of the money entrusted to them—seeking to honor God in all expenditures.
With Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, the components most cited as possibly harmful are magic, Eastern spirituality, and gambling.
In Pokémon ("pocket monster"), the player collects creatures, trains them, then uses them against the creatures of other players. Some creatures can evolve into larger, more powerful versions of itself. Each creature has a set of strengths and weaknesses, plus a special magical ability. Some of the abilities are spiritual in nature and stem from Eastern faiths (Buddhist and Shinto traditions notably), such as psychic ability, possession, chanting, and communing with spirits. This aspect of the game is secondary, and most children (and many adults) won't associate these abilities with religion.
However, some Christians will object, like Buddhists and Muslims who have also criticized the games. The subtle spiritual aspect of the game may be a problem in some Christian families and with impressionable and insightful children. Guidance is required, and children should be taught that the games are fantasy and do not compete with the one true God nor Christianity.
Some Christians also warn against allowing children to play Pokémon because it is aimed at children and can be seen as introducing them to magic, evolution, Eastern religions, and even the occult. Parents should seek wisdom on this as to what effect such a game would have on their children.
Some Christian parents also caution against the games because of their gambling nature. Though some skill is employed, luck is also important to win at the games. Many games rely on a combination of skill and luck—any game that includes dice, a shuffling of cards, or other mechanics of chance. However, in Yu-Gi-Oh!, the main character is described as a compulsive gambler.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, aimed more toward young teenagers, a good-vs-evil storyline runs through the game, based on Japanese manga comics. The themes are more mature and the content could be considered more disturbing. In Yu-Gi-Oh! a spirit possesses the central character and drives him to take part in games of chance—gambling. Both the possession and gambling are a concern, spiritually. Part of the game involves negotiating with spirits, summoning, and such. The magic is more occult-like and the creatures more monstrous than in Pokémon. The game is more mature visually, narratively, and spiritually.
Both Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! could be compared to cartoons with their magic elements, violence, fantasy, and competition. These concepts may lead to spiritual struggles in some Christian families and children, and appear benign in others.
The complexity of the games goes beyond this article, so research is required if you or your child are getting into Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!. Both games have elements that are concerning, to some degree. Neither game is blatantly a significant threat, nor can we outright conclude they should be banished from every Christian household. Gather the information, seek the wisdom of God, and continue to seek godly guidance.
Remember also that the games have changed over the years. Both have "mellowed out" according to one knowledgeable Christian gamer, making spiritual and violent aspects of the game more secondary.
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