Pokemon. It’s a franchise that hardly needs introduction. Even if you’ve never played a Pokemon game, seen any of the dozens of movies or seasons of the animated television show, played the card game, or interacted with any of the hundreds of other merchandise and media that exist for the franchise, it’s likely you know what it is. You may even love the franchise, as many people do across the globe, evidenced by the success of every game title or spin off merchandise. However, there are many people that would say Pokemon is more than just a game. There are many people who believe Pokemon has a more sinister hidden motive.

Explain the theory

The Pokemon Brainwashing conspiracy is a conspiracy based on the idea that Pokemon games are brainwashing people, mostly children, around the world.[1] Said brainwashing is being produced by not Nintendo, according to the conspiracy, but actually the New World Order and Illuminati pulling the strings behind Nintendo. These organizations symbolize groups of “elites” that are trying to manipulate and control the world, unifying it into one entity obediently under their control.[2] This conspiracy further explains that the New World Order and Illuminati are conducting said brainwashing by fusing satanic, dark magic and “reptilian” themes, making children and adults accustomed and accepting towards the Illuminati and cult culture. There are also arguments that a recently produced mobile phone app, Pokemon Go, is being used to collect information for the Illuminati or Government without players of the game knowing.[3] The evidence of said connections varies, some conspiracy activists claiming that the designs of Pokemon match satanic or hell description from the Bible, others saying the popularity of Pokemon games in and of itself is evidence that it’s brainwashing and distracting people from “real issues.”[4] It’s safe to assume believers of this conspiracy are not excited about the new Pokemon games, Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon, coming out later this month.

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Figure 1. Many of the conspiracy “proof” youtube videos include thumbnails and imagery that visually connects Pokemon to the Illuminati and frames it negatively. This example is from the Before It’s News article, though more examples can be seen in the TheScariestMovieEver video.

But who are these people set on framing a children’s game as illuminati propaganda or satanic brainwashing? The short answer is there are tens, possibly hundreds of individuals that subscribe to this conspiracy. There are many opinion articles[5] and discussion threads that show people’s questioning of this theory or full belief of the conspiracy itself. This exploration of the conspiracy would never end if there were an attempt to document and analyze every individual who has posted about Pokemon being a brainwashing tool. So, instead the focus has been narrowed to those who believe the conspiracy and have a lot of public attention. Three of many thousands more, but three that have several views or followers for their specific documentation of the conspiracy, social leaders in the active voicing of this conspiracy in our society.

The first example is the website InfoWars.com, with an article written by Kit Daniels[6], and a supporting video[7] produced by website founder and main spokesperson Alex Jones. Kit Daniels is an author[8], editor, as well as participating in several other roles for InfoWars.com, and Alex Jones[9] is the founder of InfoWars.com, gathering the team of “news reporters” seeking “truth” and broadcasting it through the website. Kit Daniels and Alex Jones create videos, for InfoWars.com and side Youtube channels called Resistance News,[10] and write articles for InfoWars.com as well as other websites, Kit Daniels being on a website titled Breaking News Blast.[11] Their “news” programs cover what they consider to be “truth exposed” and largely focuses around discussions of New World Order, the Illuminati, and how the social elite are controlling everyone, as well as how to act against said control. If you look up either of these men on Google find the top hits either being the websites they make products for or their social media accounts. Neither is trying to hide the fact that they have opinions about conspiracies and talk about them actively. If you keep looking you can also get some basic background information on Alex Jones, such as the fact he’s been interested in conspiracies from an early age, experienced corruption in local police authorities in his hometown of Rockwell which encouraged him to look into conspiracies more, and the fact he was kicked off his original public access radio station.[12] Neither seems to have backgrounds in video game programming or psychology, so several of their claims on how Pokemon Go functions and how the game influences people should be taken with careful consideration.

The next example is a Youtube channel under the name of TheScariestMovieEver, ran by a self-identified KJ Ozborne.[13] Unfortunately finding any information other than what KJ posts was near impossible. Their Youtube channel garners hundreds of thousands of views; yet, Ozborne seems to keep personal information out of public view. Even searching Ozborne’s Facebook[14] and finding an old buried personal blog[15] revealed almost nothing about them. There is no listed education, current or past, no employment, and no affiliations with any religion. The assumption can be made, considering their Youtube about page states “Christ is the key,” that Ozborne is religious, but there is no concrete proof as such. Yet, despite lacking any and all background their videos get a great deal of views, spreading the idea that Pokemon is brainwashing people. Again this is an example of someone with no public information or education in video game programming, yet, make claims on how the game functions and controls people with wide acceptance and reception from viewers.

Lastly is Sam Gerrans[16], who proved to be another difficult person to research. One fact that stuck out to me is that Gerrans seems to have a background in Qur’an studies[17], both translating it and developing a theology based on his personal studies of the Qur’an. In his personal bio he seems to try and defend his theology by stating he has studied Arabic and the Qur’an for 15 years, and that he simply “followed evidence,” a claim that suggests his theology is then natural. None of this seems applicable to discussing a video game, specifically a mobile game, yet Gerrans writes an article, without referencing outside information, stating Pokemon Go is brainwashing and people into being willingly data gatherers for the government. Gerrans writes as if what he is saying is fact, but the article itself has a disclaimer for being an opinion piece that reflects the opinion of only the author itself. Gerrans is an one example of many articles that come from people with no history in video game studies or construction, and who do not references articles or outside information, but still write statements as if they are facts. A particularly interesting example, as well, since his background is in religious studies has nothing to do with video game programming or any other field that would give him credibility in the claims he makes against Pokemon Go and how the game functions.

Analyze the theory

While this theory does seem farfetched at first, there is some thread of truth inside of it. While there’s no concrete evidence of the Illuminati or New World Order using it to brainwash people, or people really being brainwashed by it to get information for some outside corporation, there is a certain psychology behind Pokemon, especially with the new mobile game Pokemon Go.[18] Pokemon Go was hugely successful, and a part of that is psychology. The fact that there’s a collection mechanic to Pokemon Go and to other Pokemon games, along with the fact that it is a well known franchise actually are likely to make us want to play the game more and like it more. Is this brainwashing? Not really, it’s mostly just psychology used to determine what game mechanics people respond positively to. But the sheer success of Pokemon Go could be alarming to someone if they didn’t know about this psychological technique used in many successful video games.

There is also the fact that the game does have the potential to gather people and into a space where ideologies can be spread. Churches in the UK have considered using Pokemon Go as a party theme[19] in order to have leverage in appealing to young potential visitors to their church. The fact that the game is so popular, especially among younger generations, could be used to try and gather said young people and then spread ideas among them. The key here is to remember that it’s easier said than done. While the likelihood to use Pokemon Go as a conversation, or conversion, starter is real, there’s no magic bullet that will make people listen and convert instantly to whatever theology is promoted with the game as a spring board. The brainwashing conspiracy assumes instant transmission from the producer, the Illuminati or New World Order, to the consumer, which is a hasty assumption to make, especially with no proof of similar cases leading to success.

Logical fallacies in this conspiracy are plentiful, varying from video to video, article to article. A common fallacy is the genetic fallacy. Kit Daniel’s is guilty of this fallacy, claiming that because someone who in a previous job received funding from the CIA, John Hanke, founded the company who created Pokemon Go, Niantic, Inc., that the CIA is now connected to Pokemon Go. Not only is this a genetic fallacy, claiming any connection to the CIA is negative and turning smartphone users into ‘probe droids,’ but is guilty of the association fallacy. This argument claims that because Pokemon Go is connected to it’s parent company’s founder, John Hanke, and John Hanke was once in a company funded by the CIA, that Pokemon Go is connected to the CIA, which there’s no evidence of.

Another common fallacy is the use of emotional appeals, especially in the application of religion. There are several articles, even entire blogs dedicated to systematically relating Pokemon to demons and hell, trying to appeal to emotional ties to religion and fear. Many of these religious connections are done through hasty decisions or more logical association fallacies. An example being that one believer argued because ghost Pokemon are mostly designed with the color purple, and purple can be used to symbolize the “Mauze zone”[20] a biblical area affiliated with demonds, that ghost Pokemon, specifically Gengar, is a demon in Pokemon Go. These arguments make hasty leaps of logic as well as assume that by a color association two ideas link up, both fallacies common in the “evidence” provided for this conspiracy.

As briefly mentioned above, many articles will just avoid evidence all together, such as Sam Gerrans or the Pokemon Truth blog, which use personal anecdote and emotional appeals to prove their arguments against Pokemon. Gerrans opinion article states that Pokemon Go is used to collect and sell data to companies such as the CIA, and the Pokemon Truth blog using almost exclusive religious appeals to associate Pokemon with demons, homosexuals, or other minorities and then antagonizing said groups.

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Figure 2. An example of the kinds of social and religious bias that can frame conspirator arguments against Pokemon, immediately taking social stances against certain groups and using negative association to frame Pokemon as satanic and evil. From The TRUTH About Pokemon!

Some biases of the conspiracy believers and advocates are probably apparent already, from what’s been discussed thus far. Several authors who pose Pokemon Go as a brainwashing New World Order scheme have obvious religious bias, as well as social biases, such as in the Pokemon Truth blog, which is not only apparently Christian but also anti-LGBTQ. Sam Gerrans’ article also shows a social bias, as he specifically calls out liberals in his article, framing him as opposed to that labeled group of people. However, there are other biases which exist, such as Alex Jones profiting off of his videos and website views. In Jones’ Pokemon Go video several ads and links appear, and the article on the website has ads surrounding it. Alex Jones and Kit Daniels obviously have financial interests in their views, and are able to make money on advertising views as well as promoting their own websites store products on the conspiracy.

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Figure 3. A Thumbnail from Alex Jones Pokemon Go video, highlighting his ads which appear frequently through the video, showing a personal bias in his creation of this video with the intention of profit. Watch the full video here to see more of Jones’ ads and his arguments based on personal anecdote.

Pokemon, as a franchise, is not without it’s faults. There’s plenty of controversy surrounding design choices of characters and Pokemon, as well as several other mistakes that Nintendo has made along the way.[21] However, when faced with media that doesn’t support itself, or relies on pre-established social or religious biases, even if they match your own, it’s important to think critically about what you are really witnessing. Always ask yourself critical questions when you see articles proclaiming Pokemon is a brainwash tool:

Who are the conspirators and how would all the conspirators be organized?
Who gains from this conspiracy?
Pokemon has been around for 20 years, how has this conspiracy not been revealed in that time?
How many people would have to be involved to keep it hidden?
How do conspirators keep non-conspiracy members from finding proof of the conspiracy or uncovering the conspiracy?
If this conspiracy is real, why haven’t global powers revealed it or found out about it?
Pokemon was originally created in Japan, how do conspiracies revolving around the US government controlling US citizens benefit a foreign a country?
Does believing this theory involve accepting contradicting ideas about the conspirators (such as them being hyper organized but also idiotic)?
Considering this conspiracy is widely talked about on social and online platforms, why would conspirators let these stories continue to be accessible?
[1] Chalk, A. M. (2016, July 17). Pokemon: Occult Agenda / NWO Brainwashing Game! | New World Order. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://beforeitsnews.com/new-world-order/2016/07/pokemon-occult-agenda-nwo-brainwashing-game-6384.html An article from Before It’s News is a website that often advertises for InfoWars.com, a large and well known website that propagates conspiracy theories. Before It’s News compiles articles about different conspiracy theories, this particular one being a summary of Pokemon’s connection to the Illuminati.

[2] Adachi, K. (1997). The New World Order, an Overview. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://educate-yourself.org/nwo/ Educate Yourself is a self-proclaimed compilation of overviews and evidence of several different conspiracies. This article details the New World Order, but remember this website is formed on the assumption that the conspiracies it writes are true and writes with the intention of persuading you what it writes it truth.

[3] Gerrans, S. (2016, July 18). Pokémon Go and the coming zombie apocalypse. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from https://www.rt.com/op-edge/351843-pokemon-go-zombie-apocalypse/ RT is a global news compilation website, with several news avenues and online/television broadcasts. Just be wary for articles such as this one, which are opinion pieces where the author writes as if they are stating facts. Always ask how information is gathered and what an article is written as (news or opinion) before accepting it as fact.

[4] S. (2010, April 5). The TRUTH About Pokémon!! Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://pokemontruth.blogspot.com/ This is a personal blog where someone writes their experience playing a Pokemon game and their view of how it portrays satanic themes.

[5] Shepherd, J. E. (2016, July 11). Pokémon Go Is an Agent of the State. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://jezebel.com/pokemon-go-is-an-agent-of-the-state-1783448711 Jezebel is a news website with a focus on pop culture. There are several editorial opinion pieces, such as this one, where writers document their experiences of feelings on current trending media. This one is mostly opinion and was most likely written to gain from the buzz of Pokemon Go’s popularity so keep that in mind.

[6] Daniels, K. (2016, July 11). Pokémon Go Linked to CIA. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.infowars.com/pokemon-go-linked-to-cia/ Infowars is a website dedicated to exposing the “truth.” Almost all of the news on this website is focused around supporting conspiracy theories and finding new evidence every day of how the New World Order is behaving in our world. This particular article is trying to connect Pokemon to the CIA, which is a definite New World Order operative. Just be wary of the logical fallacies and think critically about anything you read here.

[7] Jones Show, T. (2016, June 12). Secret Pokémon GO Character Discovered! Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8RtqxGM8TQ Alex Jones video about Pokemon Go. Ironically, there are moments he seems to almost praise the game for how parts of it’s design “backfires” against it’s intended purpose. Other than that it’s purely his own thoughts on how it’s trying to control people with virtual spaces.

[8] Daniels, K. (n.d.). Kit Daniels, Author at Infowars. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.infowars.com/author/kit-daniels/page/7/ Kit Daniels’ biography on Infowars.

[9] Jones, A. (2011). About Alex Jones » Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind! Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.infowars.com/about-alex-jones/ Alex Jones’ biography on Infowars. It’s much more extensive, explaining the site mission along with some of Alex Jones’ story behind making Infowars.

[10] News, R. (2015, May 18). Resistance News. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG-JtVoCTdSB6Wbre7W_mFQ Kit Daniels and Infowars side youtube channel, Resistance News, which posts conspiracy theory videos based on recent events.

[11] Daniels, K. (n.d.). Kit Daniels | Breaking News Blast. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.breakingnewsblast.com/author/kit-daniels/ An achieve of all the articles Kit Daniels has written for Breaking News Blast, a smaller blog-style conspiracy theory news website.

[12] Zaitchik, A. (2011, March 2). Meet Alex Jones. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/talk-radios-alex-jones-the-most-paranoid-man-in-america-20110302?page=3 A Rolling Stone biographical article about Alex Jones, documenting briefly key periods of his life and how he got into conspiracy theories and radio hosting. It isn’t necessarily unbiased, since it’s clearly written from someone who doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories, but it does offer a good amount of nonbiased information about Alex Jones and interesting quotes from him about his life. Definitely worth a read just out of curiosity behind one of the big conspiracy voices in our society.

[13] Ozborne, K. (2010, April 27). The Scariest Movie Ever. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/user/TheScariestMovieEver/about The about page for the scariest movie ever. The Youtube channel is filled with videos where Ozborne talks listeners through conspiracies and evidence they put together to prove said conspiracies. The conspiracies range several topics and events.

[14] Ozborne, K. (n.d.). About Kay Jay Ozborne. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/scariestmovieevermade/about?section=education&pnref=about Ozborne’s very unhelpful facebook about section.

[15] Ozborne, K. (2010). Observations through black rose colored glasses. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://observethedecline.blogspot.com/ An old personal blog of Ozborne’s with a few entries that seem to be observations of life around them and how it’s negative. Lightly implies recognizing a ‘controlled population’ suggesting that maybe Ozborne’s interest in conspiracies started around this time or at least existed at this time.

[16] Gerrans, S. (2016, July 18). Pokémon Go and the coming zombie apocalypse. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from https://www.rt.com/op-edge/351843-pokemon-go-zombie-apocalypse/ The same article from RT as cited previously; an opinion piece by Gerrans about how Pokemon Go is turning Americans into mindless puppets used for data collection.

[17] Gerrans, S. (n.d.). Sam Gerrans • Quranite. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from https://www.quranite.com/about/sam-gerrans/ A website made by Sam Gerrans that is both a store and summary of his work with the Qur’an but a series of blog articles that talk about key issues Gerrans dissects after his work with the Qur’an, likely based around the theology he proclaims he has pulled from his studies. There are several forms of media here so it’s clear he has a lot invested in this work.

[18] Stockton, N. (2016, July 12). The Psychology of How Pokémon Go Gets Inside Your Brain. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from https://www.wired.com/2016/07/psychology-pokemon-go-gets-inside-brain/ An article discussing the psychology behind the popularity of Pokemon Go. Wired is a website that posts news articles that at times do lean more liberal than conservative, but has plenty of articles that approach current topics or issues by including different scientific or psychological approaches. These tend to be nonpartisan biased, which applies to this article as well, as it sticks to what can be said when psychology is applied to Pokemon Go.

[19] Cutlack, G. (2016, July 15). Cynical Churches Host Pokemon Go “Pokeparties” to Brainwash Kids into Organised Religion. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2016/07/cynical-churches-host-pokemon-go-pokeparties-to-brainwash-kids/ An article about UK Churches using Pokemon Go as a selling tactic for the Church. The website labels the Churches as brainwashing which gives them a negative view despite the tactics the article describes not really being brainwash. The website, despite having UK in the title, seems to cover somewhat global events, though focuses on the UK and US mostly. It seems to have opinions on both sides but leans more conservative than liberal.

[20] Chalk, A. M. (2016, July 17). Pokemon: Occult Agenda / NWO Brainwashing Game! | New World Order. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://beforeitsnews.com/new-world-order/2016/07/pokemon-occult-agenda-nwo-brainwashing-game-6384.html The same Before It’s News article previously sited.

[21] Pokémon controversy. (2016, September 29). Retrieved November 07, 2016, from http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pokémon_controversy Bulbapedia is essentially a Wikipedia that exclusively deals with Pokemon information. That being said most of the information on this page has sources sited near the bottom, so not only is it a convenient list of controversy in the Pokemon franchise but has additional sources to explore if you are interested in any specific issue.

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