Understanding the Latest Kid’s Craze

Yu-Gi-What? Blue eyes white dragon, Red eyes black dragon and Gemini elf. While these may sound like the names of mythical creatures starring in a fairy tale spun by the Brothers Grimm, these three characters represent a fraction of beings in the cult-like craze sweeping over young boys ages 6 to 11. The import cartoon series Yu-Gi-Oh!is based on the trading card and dueling game adventures of a young boy who shares his name with the show’s title.

Gracing the silver screen in its first feature movie and airing on cable stations several times a day, Yu-Gi-Oh!has burst into the lives and minds of nearly every male adolescent in the country. As one of the many parents who finds this game confusing, understanding its appeal is practically impossible. As if finding cards in the washing machine and under the sofa cushions isn’t frustrating enough, trying to keep the hundreds of monsters straight is virtually impossible – that is, if you’re over the age of 12.

The average cost to purchase a package of nine cards is $4.97 plus tax. The average number of cards required to hold your own in a duel is approximately 40. That equates to a lot of trash cans being emptied and lawns being mowed by children in search of allowance advances. Despite the cost to acquire cards and the desperate search to locate “rare” and “ultra-rare” monsters, kids spend hours fixating on this enterprise.

What are the effects of children spending countless hours strategizing how to be the ultimate duel master and where to find the strongest cards? The facts may be even more surprising than the game’s appeal itself.

How Are Schools Dealing With Duels?

Woods Creek Elementary School Principal Betsy Les has deemed her class rooms “no dueling zones.” The distraction of kids wanting to trade cards or share strategies impedes their ability to focus on the subject matter presented in the classroom, she says. While using their imagination is obviously encouraged in school, the concept of promoting a dueling or battling atmosphere is definitely not.

Coupled with the competitive nature of negotiating for the best cards and the exclusivity of some levels of duels, schools nationwide are enforcing a moratorium on Yu-Gi-Oh!cards and duels. Debby Olson’s 9-year-old son, Eric, was devastated when his fourth grade teacher confiscated some of his prized cards on the playground. “I wish they would have sent home a note explaining the cards weren’t allowed on school property,” Olson says. “I completely support their policies but also expect them to be clearly stated to parents.”

Not seeing the game as anything more than a passing phase, Olson shares the feeling of many parents: Yu-Gi-Oh is a harmless game that promotes friendships and keeps kids occupied. When weighing the possibilities of gangs, drugs, alcohol and other destructive behavior, playing this game for hours on end with a group of buddies seems a likely option for parents.

Fosters Friendships or Segregates Peers?

Zack Tubbs, an extended care worker for elementary school children, finds the game’s appeal helpful. “You see kids huddled together who may never even notice each other if it wasn’t for their shared interest in this,” he says.

The camaraderie forged among peers of eclectic backgrounds and interests exposes children to diversity. A shy child gains self-esteem when a peer praises his dueling ability, and children struggling with social anxiety find themselves comforted among a group of kids trading the cards.

Prone to playing baseball and hunting for worms, 9-year-old Kelly Ryan has seen the exact opposite result of this craze. “That’s all my friends want to do,” he says. “We used to ride bikes and play tag; now all the boys want to play is Yu-Gi-Oh!

AlthoughYu-Gi-Oh!is wildly popular, it does seem to appeal far more to the imaginations and interest of boys than girls. Perhaps it’s the call-to-arms lure of dueling or because it stimulates their imaginative abilities to transport into the mindset of the monsters as they play each card.

What Can Kids Learn?

Surprisingly, there are some positive lessons to be learned. The art of negotiating a trade for cards and the complex strategies required to be successful assist the development of many social skills. Keeping track of the defense, attack and life points of everyone on the playing field provides a challenging math game, as much as a trading card game.

Mike and Sheila Splitts’ son, Tyler, races home every day in order to trade and duel with his friends. “It’s a harmless game that’s really helped teach him the correlation between earning privileges and working toward a goal,” says Splitts.

Jeanne Grzelka, the mother of Tyler’s best friend and dueling pal, agrees. “They never argue about doing homework or taking a shower,” she says. “He knows that if he wants to play, he has to fulfill his responsibilities first.”

Families like the Olsons and Splitts all agree that setting boundaries and limits is important. “Talk to your school’s administration before there’s a problem,” says Olson. You may not realize your child could face discipline – up to suspension – for having the cards on the premises.

Taking a moment to reflect on the fads and trends of our childhood, our younger generation’s obsession with Yu-Gi-Oh! is comparable to the hours we once spent with tinker toys, Barbie and playing Twister. Hopefully our children will be left with the equally warm memories of time spent playing with good friends. Learning the strongest monster – in defense mode, of course – helps us all transport to a period when we were carefree and without time limitations.

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