Real Stories is an ongoing column about the stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This installment will focus on the Pokemon Satanic panic.
In the 1980s, a widespread moral panic pertaining to the Satanic indoctrination of vulnerable minds engulfed the media. Now known as the Satanic Panic, the epidemic was the result of alleged widespread ritual abuse cases, which chronicled horrifying stories of children being violated by devil worshippers. These gruesome tales were fabricated nonsense, but they were effective nonetheless.
Fundamentalist Christians and concerned parents believed that pop culture was also in league with Beelzebub. Everything from heavy metal music to cartoons was accused of propagating Hell’s message. In 1988, Geraldo Rivera’s lurid documentary Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground brought NBC its highest ratings ever at the time and paved the way for other like-minded docs that spread more lies and fear. Satan sold and the world was buying.
This hysteria carried over into the 1990s and early 2000s as well. Doom video games and Marilyn Manson were the obvious scapegoats given that they were both directly blamed for the Columbine High School massacre. But they weren’t the only pop culture entities to be associated with turning impressionable folks into Luciferian delinquents. The Pokémon phenomenon was also accused of serving as a gateway to evil.
Of course, Pokémon has never been a stranger to controversy. From episodes of the anime causing seizures to the card game inspiring surges in child crime, the franchise has a well-documented history of scandals. If you want to read about a wide variety of Pokémon controversies in more detail, check out this fan-curated page. In the meantime, though, let’s focus on how the children’s franchise clashed with religious groups.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that some people believe that Pokémon was devised as a sneaky scheme to encourage children to practice Satanism and sorcery. Games that feature creatures being summoned to do one’s bidding have encountered such accusations in the past after all.
In the 1980s, Dungeons and Dragons was condemned by Christian opposition for promoting witchcraft and demonology, especially following some tragic suicides involving teenage players. In his sincere 22-page critique of the roleplaying game, Dr. Gary North, a Christian economist, described it as “a recruiting tool for Satan.” Similar criticisms befell Pokémon.
In a 2001 article by Christian outlet Worthy News, the author claimed that Pokémon “opens up players to the demonic realm.” While the piece doesn’t flat-out accuse Pokémon of being “the enemy” to everything that’s holy and pure, the author highlights how it’s a dangerous game that can be manipulated by Lucifer and his agents to lead players down a dark path. Furthermore, the article is critical of the game’s evolutionary, Pagan, Shinto, and Tibetan influences since none of these belief systems align with Christian dogma.
That said, other religious types have directly linked Pokémon to the dark arts. In this sermon, the preacher tells his large audience, all of whom appear to be in agreement with him, that the games tell children how to “enter the world of witchcraft” and embrace all things demonic. This speech typifies the hysteria surrounding Pokémon at its most concerned.
But how exactly does Pokémon turn players into witches and warlocks? The general consensus is that the games make them want to dig deeper into the occult. As noted by Did You Know Gaming, some creatures in Pokémon lore have supernatural and paranormal abilities, and some religious naysayers have compared them to the demons in Lesser Key of Solomon. The ancient text, which was popularized by Aleister Crowley, gives instructions on how to summon evil entities from other dimensions. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before roleplaying games about Pikachus and Bulbasaurs inspires children to seek out real demons like Valak.
The ridiculous Satanic hysteria surrounding Pokémon has made for some entertaining satire at least. In a fake Time magazine interview, the game’s creator, Satoshi Tajiri, claimed that his creation was anti-Christian and violent:
“’Pokémon’ is essentially the correct answer towards life, not Christianity. Everything presented in the game is the opposite of what Christians may believe. Some have said that the game promotes voodoo or magic, and I agree in the sense that there are many things that occur in nature that are unexplainable. Furthermore, the violence in the games is unparalleled. It may not show up in the actual graphics, but the brutality is made especially explicit in the Pokédex entries. Nature, again, played a big role.”
In addition to the satire, several urban legends have added to the Satanic legacy of Pokémon. In South Africa, children were said to have heard voices and fainted after eating chips which contained Pokémon paraphernalia. In reality, the games and collectibles were actually banned in schools as a result of these superstitions and were even targeted by a state-sponsored Occult Crime Unit.
Then there’s the Lavender Town myth. According to the story, more than 200 Japanese children between the ages of seven and 12 committed suicide after hearing some creepy music hidden in the Game Boy game Pokémon Red and Green. The story is nothing more than an internet urban legend, but it’s an excellent riff on all the media reports that have deemed Pokémon harmful to those who succumb to its curses.
Despite the myriad of theories and accusations linking Pokémon with Lucifer and the occult, the Vatican gave the franchise its full blessing. Back in 2000, the world’s most influential Christian institution investigated the games and decided that they did not contain “any harmful moral side effects.” However, Satanic conspiracies have remained synonymous with Pokémon since then. Not even the Vatican can completely absolve this critter franchise from evil.