When 7- and 8-year-old boys get together, talk often turns quickly to fantasy games such as Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, or other worlds of collectible cards and characters. Some boys seem absolutely obsessed with these action-fantasy adventures. (While some girls play, the vast majority of players are boys.)
Young boys love role-playing games like Pokémon because the games allow them to explore worlds their parents don’t understand, which gives them powerful feelings of independence. Playing these games also allows them to exercise newly emerging cognitive skills: the ability to categorize, organize, and memorize. Seven- and eight-year-olds have prodigious memories and love to show them off; reciting the names of fantasy game monsters and their skill points is a real challenge. The games also appeal to a boy’s strivings to be heroic, strong, competent, and dominant. The fact that it’s not a “girl’s game” is just another plus.
These games are a safe outlet for competition, especially for non-athletic boys, and they provide for shared connections that support a child’s friendships. Even playing on Gameboys, connected by a “game link cable,” brings kids closer.
On the downside, the games can come close to being addictive. Some boys develop an insatiable appetite. A boy may become so obsessed with showing off his collection that he lacks empathy for boys whose families can’t afford to or choose not to buy them endless gear. For boys who have learning disabilities, the games can be a demoralizing reminder that they lag behind other kids. Bad trades can lead to fights, disrupted friendships, and tears.
It is very hard to draw the line between an excited, obsessive interest and an addiction. If the cards are causing conflict for your child, then you should intervene, the way a teacher might in the classroom. If your child is hooked on buying more and more cards, it may be time to set stricter limits.
You may find that you start out mistrusting these games that generate such intensity, but end up supporting your son’s enthusiasms. If the dangers of excessive competitiveness and envy can be avoided, along with over-the-top materialism, there is nothing harmful in these games. Eventually a boy outgrows them and moves on to new interests, new games, and heroic adventures of his own.