Pokemon and the Jewish question

"What rock and roll was to the youth of the Sixties, gaming is to the youth of today."

pokemon 88 (photo credit: )
pokemon 88
(photo credit: )
'What rock and roll was to the youth of the '60s, gaming is to the youth of today," according to Killol Bhuta, brand manager, Ford Motor Company. Even among adults, video games are wildly popular; according to the Entertainment Software Association (http://www.theesa.com/facts/top-10-facts.php), the average age of Americans who bought video games last year was 37 - and even 19 percent of over-50s play games! Not only that, but 75% of American heads of households play computer and video games, according to the group, and the industry sells $8 billion dollars worth of the things every year in the US. Just like rock in its time was supposed to evoke the feelings of the age, video games - as the vehicle of youth culture, give kids (and wannabe kids) their important cultural cues. Even if you don't play games, you can't avoid their influence: More and more movies and TV shows are either based on characters from video games, or look like they might have been plucked out of a game. Lots of people think that games, with their often excessive violence and gangsta rap-style theme music, reflect a brutalization of society, while others point to the very common themes of fantasy and escapism (Myst, Age of Empires, etc.) in many games as signs of alienation and isolation. But I have a different question about video games: Is it good for the Jews? Jews, as we know, have been everywhere in popular cultures throughout the ages - and they tend to crop up in the most surprising places. So it stands to reason that the newest pop culture phenomena would have something to say about Jews, or Jewish themes, as well. Living as we do in an era when enlightened people, like game authors, tend to downplay ethnic, racial and religious issues, it's difficult to find any identifiably Jewish characters in top video games. Aside from some tenuous Jewish character connections in the World War II-themed "Half Life," though, but there are plenty of references to Jewish symbols and concepts in several other games. One vampire vs. good guys vs. other bad guys shoot 'em up, called "The Legacy of Kain," has plenty of Jewish-type names, including Raziel, (as in the Angel Raziel, to whom the Kabbala attributes protection against fire), Rahab (prostitute of Jericho), and Kain himself, Adam's "bad seed." Raziel, the, game's main character, starts out as a good guy, turns into a vampire (which some think is a code word for "Jew" - see http://www.nthposition.com/bloodculture.php), and in a third incarnation, rises up against the vampires. Kain apparently was a bad guy who later turned into a good guy. And there are plenty more Jewish game references; there's a Golem in Monster Rancher, Nephilim in "Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness" (among others), a Tower of Babel in "Doom" (among many others), a guy named "Flinty Stone" in Viewtiful Joe who is described as a "golem-like agent who speaks with a Jewish accent," and others too numerous to mention. The truth is, popular culture is so full of Jewish references that mean one thing in the Jewish world, another in the Christian world and something else entirely in the pan-global Far Eastern/Pagan flavored New Age humanistic "religion" we have today (Madonna-style Kabbalism is a good example), it's tough to pick out what exactly all these Jewish references mean, if anything. And then, of course, there's Pokemon, which was recently banned by Saudi Arabia for alleged Zionist references (apparently one of the characters uses a star of David for something). On the other hand, one of the many, many Pokemon characters uses a swastika as his shield, a situation that caused the ADL much concern (http://www.adl.org/presrele/mise-00/3511-00.asp). There is also supposedly a Pokemon called "UnGeller" who bends spoons; Web sites I've seen say "UnGeller" means "Evil Geller" in Japanese, and Nintendo, Pokemon's creator, is being sued by the spoon bending showman Uri Geller. Of course, Geller is easy to make fun of, and swastikas are good luck charms in the Far East, but Japan has in the past been accused of fostering an anti-Semitic culture (http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw97-8/japan.html), which would at least partially explain negative Jewish images in popular games, many of which are based on the Japanese anime pop-culture tradition. Of course, any good gamer is going to have his or her eye on the action, not philosophy. But will players of "In Nomine" connect the "immortal" characters in the game, Ahasuerus and Cartaphilus, with their roles in Christian tradition as the Wandering Jews (http://www.sjgames.com/in-nomine/articles/INChar/Humans/Immortals.Wandering.html)?