Pokemon cards, fakes, and lessons on the evils of the world

We dutifully tested the cards and found them wanting. But I was still sceptical. “They look kinda the same,” I said. Daughter intervened. “There’s one way to know for sure,” she said. “Rip the card in half. The real ones have a black line.”

“But then you’ve lost your card,” I said. My son shrugged. “If it was fake, it deserved it.” I thought about bringing up the Middle Ages, witchcraft and the swim test, and then mentally closed that can of worms.

Pokemon wasn’t over. Not nearly. Consumer (kid) demand grew and grew. They chewed through our paltry supplies and we had to buy more. Soon I found myself scouring overseas websites for Pokemon cards, specifically fakes that look real. Two weeks later, they arrived. Things of beauty, shiny and golden or even metallic. They shimmered. They were so pretty no one cared if they were fake.

As the obsession intensified, we seized the market opportunity. Do your piano practice and earn a card. Which card? Pick from these five, of which three are Pikachus.

In the schoolyard, the value of Pokemon cards was going bananas. Some pocket monsters (Pokemon) were rising, others were dropping. One young Wolf of Sesame Street cornered the market in Pikachu cards, trading away absolutely everything else he had. “Supply and demand,” I marvelled.


Soon, the inflated values produced even more teachable moments. Clever kids figured out how to get cards cheaply, by telling others their prized cards were fake. “Not interested,” they’d say, walking away, only for the other to come charging after them, begging for the right to give their specialest card away for a smattering of bad cards.

“Salesman techniques! Bartering! Information asymmetry! It’s all there,” I crowed.

And then, at the height of the craze, my son’s thick folder of cards went mysteriously missing during class time. He returned to find his bag unzipped and his folder gone. White-faced at pick-up time, uncharacteristically quiet at dinner. But the next day, his friends sprang into action. At after-school care, one of his cards had been seen circulating. The interrogations began. Where did you get this card from? Eventually, with the kid cops closing in, the culprit hid the folder under a cushion and made a run for it.

Is this when the school steps in, we wondered. Is this the point where the teachable moments hit reality? No. All by itself, the bubble burst. Like a mini-Bitcoin, the value of these demand-inflated tokens fell away to near zero. At the trading stump, a few holders-out loitered, hoping to keep the craze going. But it was dead. They were just trading cards, after all.

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