When Kyle Amirault threw one of his favorite cards, Barrel Dragon, onto the table, he knew he was nearing victory.Skip to next paragraph
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The 12-year-old from Lynnfield, Mass., had played dozens of Yu-Gi-Oh games over the past six months. Barrel Dragon, a rare card with high attack points, rarely let him down.
Kyle picked up a quarter on the table.
To win the game, the coin would need to land on heads two out of three times. Kyle spun the quarter like a silver top. First roll, heads. Second roll, tails. On the third roll, the coin broke its tight spiral and teetered left and right like a seesaw.
Finally, it stopped. Heads. Kyle had survived the first round. "The way you win is with good cards," says Kyle, a bright-looking boy with closely cropped hair.
Now all Kyle had to do was find the perfect card to play - for three more rounds after this.
Here in the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, Mass., north of Boston, more than 100 children and teenagers had gathered to play in what is quickly becoming a major event in kid culture: Yu-Gi-Oh trading-card tournaments.
Each week, mostly on Saturdays, kids gather in malls like this one, or in stores that sell board games and magic tricks, to play Yu-Gi-Oh.
The cards, sold by Upper Deck (of baseball-card fame), first came to the United States about a year ago. The game has gotten hugely popular.
But trading cards are only part of Yu-Gi-Oh. A lot of you reading this already know about it because of the Saturday morning cartoon or the video game. You might also have seen a picture of Yu-Gi, the cartoon's main character, on T-shirts, key chains, and puzzles.
You may get the feeling that you've seen ideas like this before. Remember Pokémon? That also was a trading-card game, a cartoon, and a toy.
What about Star Wars? It started as a movie, but now it includes card games and merchandise. Even books, like the Harry Potter series, follow this pattern.
For the past 10 years, companies that come up with a cool idea like Yu-Gi-Oh have made a lot of money by using that idea in many different products, TV shows, and movies for kids.
By spreading the idea around, companies make it seem impossible for kids not to buy something related to the fad.
There's nothing wrong with buying these products. But kid-entertainment experts say kids should be more aware of how companies get them interested in products. Kids also need to know why companies make these products.
"It's about getting you to spend your allowance money on these things," says Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education in Washington, D.C.
The Yu-Gi-Oh brand is a good example of how a good idea becomes a fad.
Yu-Gi-Oh began as a comic book in Japan in 1996. The character Yu-Gi is a kid in high school whose grandfather owns a game store. The grandfather gives Yu-Gi an ancient Egyptian puzzle.
When Yu-Gi solves the puzzle he receives magic powers. One of his talents is playing Dueling Monsters - a card game in which two players battle each other using cards based on mystical creatures with different abilities.
The comic book was a huge hit in Japan, partly because it involved trading cards, which many kids were playing.
The company that owns the Yu-Gi-Oh idea in Japan has made more than $2 billion. Because other products that did well in Japan have become big successes in the US (Power Rangers, "virtual pets," Nintendo, etc.) the company sold the idea to the same US company that produced Pokémon - 4Kids Entertainment.
Even before the cartoon went on TV in the fall of 2001, 4Kids was slowly introducing it. "We had to tell kids who [Yu-Gi] was, how the game was played, what various power levels the monsters had, and who his circle of friends were," says Steve Syatt, a 4Kids spokesman.
The company did not want kids to get turned off by a lot of advertising. So first they asked a lot of websites that review new games for kids, like yahooligans.com and figures.com, to write stories about it.
The company then mailed more than 1 million videos with information and scenes from the cartoon to kids across the country. 4Kids got the list of kids' names and addresses from Toys 'R Us.
4Kids had done the same thing years ago to stir interest in Pokémon. "It worked so incredibly well the first time," Mr. Syatt says. "[We wanted to] get the word out directly to kids."
The cartoon began airing on TV in the fall of 2001. Soon after, Yu-Gi-Oh video games and action figures started showing up in toy stores. But when the trading-card game came out last spring, Yu-Gi-Oh took off. Many kids, like Kyle Dickson, also at the tournament here, learned the game at summer camp.
What attracted Kyle to the game? "The powers are interesting," says the 10-year-old from Beverly, Mass. "I feel like getting all the cards that exist."