They look like little stockbrokers, spending recess trading cards and making deals. Just what are schoolchildren doing with those Pokémon cards? In the Pokémon trading card game (the leading property of Wizards of the Coast, a company recently acquired by toys and games giant Hasbro) players collect hundreds of different "pocket monsters" with varying abilities. Sophisticated game-mechanics for combat between the various pocket monsters determine the winner, who gets to keep the losing cards. Pokémon is a less lurid variant of Magic: The Gathering, also produced by Wizards of the Coast. (The company seems to be cornering the market on fantasy-type games, having bought out TSR, which pioneered the genre with Dungeons and Dragons.) In both Magic and Pokémon, players duel with card decks through a codified system of combat. Rare cards improve a player's chance of victory, though a skillful player can be successful with a weaker set of cards. Both games also have an element of gambling: People buy the cards at a set price in sealed packets without knowing if any rare, powerful cards are contained therein. It's sort of like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket: You have to be lucky to get a winner, so you keep buying until you do. With Magic, the all-absorbing game world is extended further through a series of fantasy fiction books based on the various card sets, as well as through an online version of the game. Pokémon, of course, has a movie, a TV series, and fast-food action figures. With Pokémon, as well as with interminable video games, American children display strong intellectual abilities and long attention spans. Too bad our educational system doesn't give them anything real with which to grapple.
-by Mark Wegierski