Children have incredibly creative ways to deal with issues as they grow up. Many end up creating imaginary friends that help them cope with loneliness, anxiety, and social pressures. An imaginative nature can help children understand real world issues, like seeing their parents fight or dealing with roadblocks at school.

The recent 3DS title,Yo-kai Watch, illustrates how imagination can be used to explain lots of things, both real and imagined. Why you feel lazy on a random afternoon might be one lesson. How your favorite underwear ended up on the drying rack of a spa might be a more humorous one. Yo-kai Watch takes the accessible nature of a Saturday morning cartoon and meshes it with real-life lessons about feelings and childhood nightmares. It creates a manifestation of these feelings in the form of Yokai.

Metaphors for Real-Life Problems

Like other anime fantasy worlds, problems in Yo-kai Watch don’t have a natural, or simple, explanation. Instead, most conflicts, crimes, and accidents are caused by invisible Yokai, a ghost from Japanese folklore, who inspirit people and force them to act against their own will. You can influence the game world by fighting and capturing these Yokai to prevent them from causing more harm.

For example, early on you encounter two friends who have grown angry with one another over a comic book that one friend refused to return. You’re asked to find the stolen comic and return it to the rightful owner.

After investigating, you’ll find the mischievous Peckpocket, a Yo-kai who encourages people to steal, has inspirited the boy and made him steal the comic book. After defeating Peckpocket in battle, the boy will realize what he’s done, apologize to you and give the comic to you to return to its original owner.

This instance is an example of how Yo-kai Watch presents issues to the player. Instead of just pawning off the incident on the Yokai, the friend-turned-thief realizes that he wanted the comic and knowingly stole it, even though Peckpocket gave him an extra push.

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Illustrating Real Consequences

Yo-kai Watch encourages the development of childhood imagination. It inserts absurd explanations into everyday scenarios like crossing the street, procrastination, and laziness. But it doesn’t rely on these imaginative monsters or dismiss the consequences. It showcases the aftermath of arguments that were blown out of proportion, friendships that were tested by jealousy, and nightmares that turned out to be challenges.

The stakes increase later in the game when you encounter Dismarelda, a blob-like Yokai who holds the power to disturb the emotional atmosphere around her. After walking into your home, you find your parents screaming at each other over everyday tasks like chores and dinner.

You soon find that the fight started when Dismarelda became jealous of their loving relationship. To help calm the tension you have to fight Dismarelda.Once you’ve defeated her she realizes her jealousy and offers to join you. Once your parents calm down, they have real apologetic conversation. It’s not like the “I don’t know what came over me” that we get from most cartoons.

It’s moments like this that illustrate how Yo-kai Watch blends real-life examples with the imaginative spirits of these monsters. Yokai are catalysts for these arguments which lead to actual consequences and sincere apologies.

In both the Yo-kai Watch game and its accompanying anime, naughty children are chased by the Yokai Gargaros. Those who are caught by Gargaros or any of his minions suffer an unpleasant encounter. Those who escape his clutches grow as a person. Gargaros can represent anything from a bully to a difficult exam in a child’s life. But he’s more more adequately equated to anxiety, pressure, and everyday fears.

You have the option of running from, tricking, or even fighting the Yokai whose mission is to punish you for disobeying your parents. And for most of the game when you turn and fight the demon-like Yokai, you’ll easily be defeated by Gargaros’ club. It’s not until later in the game, after you’ve trained with hundreds of different Yokai and grown to be much stronger, that you can stand toe to toe with Gargaros and face your problems head on.

While real-life situations aren’t as easily defeatable as Gargaros, or even Peckpoket or Dismarelda, Yo-kai Watch takes these difficult concepts and turns them into an enjoyable gameplay experience. It’s a game not only meant to entertain but also help develop a child’s emotional intelligence and empathy. It opens the door to deeper conversations about home life, school issues, and other problems that might come to light throughout the adventure that we call growing up.

Nicole Tanner

Nicole Tanner

Nicole has been playing games her entire life. Now that she's a mom, she's passionate about promoting games as a healthy pastime to other parents around the globe. She has been an editor at IGN, where she launched and hosted the Girlfight podcast. In her spare time (which is not very much, honestly) she enjoys gaming, reading, and writing fiction. Most of the time she’s a mom to a crazy, intelligent, and exhausting little girl.