In 1998, Nintendo Power magazine took on the monumental task of trying to explain Pokémon to its American reader base. With Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue fast approaching a September 30 North American launch date, Game Boy owners were going to need the scoop if they were to jump into a crazy new world their Japanese friends had been enjoying since 1996. After all, the West had seen nothing quite like it at this point in history.
In Volume 108 (May of 1998) issue of Nintendo Power, five whole pages were dedicated to these strange little pocket monsters. While there’s a lot of good information on those pages, there are a couple points that seem kind of odd in retrospect.
For example, the Poké Ball we know and love today was referred to as a Monster Ball.
Now, it’s probably safe to assume Nintendo Power‘s information came from Nintendo of Japan, and Poké Balls are actually called Monster Balls in Japan. Plus it’s possible that the term Poké Ball hadn’t even been invented yet when this article went to press. So, as weird as this sounds in today’s Poké-conscious age, it was a valid way to talk about the game back before anyone knew any better.
A far more startling line, though, comes from this paragraph:
“If you think trade negotiations in major league sports are tough, just wait until the Pokémon trade wars start!”
And start they did. In 1999, a Long Island nine-year-old stabbed a thirteen-year-old boy, John DaSilva, in the leg after accusing him of stealing one of his Pokémon cards.
DaSilva made the following statement:
I told him I didn’t have it. He pulled out the knife and started waving it in my face, and then he stabbed me in the leg.
In case you’re worried about this kid, it sounds like he made it out okay. He was taken to a hospital, “where his leg was bandaged and he was given a tetanus shot.”
Now, in the infancy stages of any new media, this is the sort of event that stirs up controversy and gets parents riled up. Time magazine even ran a cover story that asked whether Pokémon was good or bad for children. Here’s an excerpt:
Grownups aren’t ready for their little innocents to be so precociously cutthroat. Is Pokémon payback for our get-rich-quick era–with our offspring led away like lemmings by Pied Poké-Pipers of greed? Or is there something inherent in childhood that Pokémania simply reflects?
Now, let’s put this into perspective here. Pokémon Go was massively successful, having been downloaded over 100 million times. Considering the vast number of people playing the thing — some of whom lived in shady neighborhoods — it was inevitable that something crazy and violent would be done while the game was being played. And, as they say, “correlation does not imply causation.” Just because violence happened while Pokémon Go was being played doesn’t mean that the violence happened because Pokémon Go was being played. But, at the height of Pokémon Go mania, a knife-fight headline that incorporated the little pocket monsters was going to catch more eyeballs than a knife-fight headline that didn’t.
And, going back to 1999 when the Pokémon stabbing happened, the United States was experiencing “Pokémania” for the very first time. I can only imagine a story about a nine-year-old stabber made for better headline fodder if it included a Pokémon reference.
For the record, this was hardly the first time an act of violence was tied to something tangentially video game-related. That actually dates back to at least the 1980s.
Obviously, none of this has much to do with the Game Boy game that Nintendo Power was talking about in this issue. Still, was this an ominous premonition about the knife fights that would happen over these lovable digital creatures? Probably not. The reference to the “Pokémon trade wars” sounds more like a bad joke that proved itself a little too on-the-money as time went on.
Either way, if you want to read the full Nintendo Power story, we’ve included it below.