By THERESA GARNER
A Christian school has banned Pokemon, claiming the toys are laced with references to the occult and promote anti-social behaviour.
Kingsway School - a nondenominational Christian school in Orewa - is not the first to ban merchandise related to the Pokemon phenomenon, but others have done it on the grounds of classroom distraction.
Co-principal John Burgess said that what some parents considered to be harmless fun and innocent fantasy, if annoyingly addictive, was harming children.
In a newsletter to the parents of the school's 270 pupils, he said he had grave concerns about "spiritual and personality issues connected with the 'game'."
"Parents are requested to support the decision to ban it from school, and urged to look closely at what values, attitudes and behaviours children are being exposed to."
Created by computer games manufacturer Nintendo, Pokemon began as a Nintendo Gameboy in Japan, then became a cartoon and a major movie. Toy industry analysts are calling it the biggest and longest-lasting marketing craze ever.
It has spawned a global trading-card frenzy, where the aim is to collect all 150 Pokemon creatures and become a Pokemon master.
Mr Burgess said children were encouraged to role-play Pokemon characters with traits that "most parents and teachers would not accept in their own children or their friends."
He said promotional material described various Pokemon as "stubborn, headstrong, quibbling, self-centred, vindictive, obnoxious, hormonal, sexually preoccupied, evil thieving, and cross-dressing.
"If the kids are going to take on the persona or at least be influenced by them as they tend to be, it's not at all useful, in fact quite harmful if it got obsessive."
Mr Burgess was also concerned that the game emphasised supernatural powers and poisoning your opponent. "It needs to be spelled out for the parents that it isn't just the disruption. It is something far more insidious."
The Internet is full of anti-Pokemon Websites, claiming it is linked to the occult.
Card collecting is not new, and defenders of the craze say it promotes analytical thinking, reading, and lets children get passionate about something.
New Zealand's Nintendo product manager, Martin Wiltshire, dismissed the criticism. "As far as I know it is a collectible card game, and it's no worse than any other."
He said of TV shows of its type: "It's the most non-violent out there. And as far as any satanic messages, my only response is 'wow' ... You'll find it's only the religious-slanted schools and groups which are saying that."
Mr Wiltshire said the craze, in its second year here, was still building. New Zealand had more than 150,000 packs of cards and more than 40,000 Gameboys.
Howick mother Chantal Dunbar said her 5-year-old son, Dominique Western, had everything from T-shirts to videos of the "horribly violent" Pokemon.
"The idea is to get animals to fight against each other, to the point where one is either going to die, or to the point the animal is so exhausted it can't move," she said.
"It goes against what parents are really trying to teach their kids, which is kindness.
"Unfortunately, he buys it with his pocket money."
"There is only so much you can do to protect them. At the end of the day, you've got to really educate your kids about what is the right thing to do."