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Informal logic 1

Informal logic and the new social phenomenon

Timothy J. Burke
Eastern Michigan University

Informal logic 2
Much of a college graduate-level argumentation class may center around examining the
tactics and theory regarding some social phenomenon. Once understanding the theory inherent to
the argumentative example, it can be applied to the phenomenon in hopes of better
comprehending the phenomenon to provide analysis and insight.
However, not every phenomenon is overtly argumentative. In fact, often a social
phenomenon can become so well-known to a society, through popularity and success, that the
source of its rise to power is often overlooked. With this is mind, an examination is made of the
current social phenomenon of Pokmon.
First, the definition of a social phenomenon must be established. A social phenomenon is
a unique, unusual event or series of events that change, redirect, or otherwise impact a society,
either by changing aspects of a person or group of people's day-to-day life, by introducing more
long-term effects on the society, or some combination of the two (Hardle, 1998). With estimated
worldwide earnings to date of more than $6 billion, Pokmons success as a business cannot be
disputed (Monster madness, 1999). However, just because its made a lot of money, can it be
considered a social phenomenon?
The Pokmon craze began as a development of the popular Tamagotchi virtual pet toy
in Japan. The word Pokmon derives from pocket monsters and describes the general
process of collecting characters and training them to fight each other. After a successful
battle, the Pokmon player would then collect the characters just defeated. Nintendo invented the
characters and a video game to place them in, and through marketing and an existing influence
on the video game industry, created a popularity in Japan before unleashing the video game on
the North American market (Harrington, 1999). This is important, because it establishes an
impact on both Eastern and Western societies. Furthermore, the craze has influenced the day-to-

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day life of many people through introducing a sub-business of Pokmon resales of trading cards,
books, stuffed animals, a television show, and, recently, a movie, all contributing to new jobs and
increased revenue (Harrington, 1999).
Since the Pokmon craze has been established as a social phenomenon, its influence on
children must be examined. Brake (1985) stated social artifacts both represent the values of a
society and shape the culture children base their future development of values in (p.2). Therefore,
the arguments children are taught to make can also shape the framework in which they found
their cultural ideals (Brake, 1985).
However, a central focus to this study is that children lack the cognitive ability to utilize
formal logic. Deductive reasoning, in fact, is not available for cognitive use until adolescence
and is considered the major accomplishment of adolescent cognition (Klaczynski &
Narasimham, 1998). Therefore, a different tactic must be used by companies to convince their
young audience to purchase their product (or, more likely, persuade their parents to buy them the
product,) go to the movie, and watch the television show.
The tactic used by Nintendo falls under the category of informal logic. Informal logic
was a main focus of Toulmins work (Cowan, 1964). Taking a more relaxed and broad-based
view of logic, informal logic tries to establish frameworks for criticism and interpretation of
arguments (Bailin, 1990). A main idea of informal logic is that the receiver fills in missing
premises to complete a stated argument (Bailin, 1990). This would seem to indicate the
necessary ability of deductive reasoning to complete the circuit of the argument relying on
informal logic.
However, Blair and Johnson (as cited by Bailin, 1990) state arguments relying on
informal logic are not strictly deductive. This provides the opportunity to establish the ability of

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children to draw inferences off of arguments relying on informal logic. These inferences are the
ones central to the success of the industry and the argumentation that creates the social
Nintendo has relied on two arguments to create the social phenomenon of Pokmon. The
first was introduced alongside the introduction of a new video game unit, and the second
accompanied the influx of trading cards and other paraphernalia to the market. In following with
an informal logic pattern of creation and continuation, the two arguments also mirror this logic


The first, Escape to color, was initially made to U.S. audiences in 1998. Television
advertisements from the Burnett firm announced the availability of Nintendos Color Game
Boy hardware unit and the accompanying Pokmon software title (Lefton, 1998). The
advertisements begin in black-and-white, showing a child besieged by daily pressures like school
and the dentist, then being sucked down the dentists drain into a world of color (Lefton, 1998).
First, an analysis of the argument is in order. As in most advertisements, the conclusion is
Buy this product [because it makes your life less bad]. The unstated premises are, in order, A
hard and colorless life is bad and Buying this product makes your life more colorful and easy.
The advertisement accomplishes it goal on two levels. On the higher, more identifiable
level, school-aged children are persuaded through the rhetorical appeal of the pathos (as their
emotions identify with the troubles of the youngster) and infer Color Game Boy would,
indeed, make their life better (or at least less bad). On a lower, more abstract level, younger
children see the colorful world of Color Game Boy and infer it looks fun.

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An interesting side effect of advertising aimed at children is that often, the persuasive
argument has two angles. In advertising aimed at adults, the need is created and the adult takes
the steps necessary to acquire the product to satisfy the need. However, most children do not
have the necessary means to acquire expensive products like video game units. Therefore,
children are unknowingly persuaded into creating a persuasive argument of their own. The
primary angle of the advertisement aimed at a child is to create the need for the product in the
child. However, the argument is not successful unless the ability to spark argument formulation
in the child/audience is present. A child can want an item, need an item all the child wants to,
but unless the child persuades someone (usually a parent) to purchase the item for them, the
advertisement falls flat. Suddenly, the informal logic utilized in advertisements aimed at children
seems more complex, rather than less complex as stated by critics (Fine et. al, 1990).
Indeed, the advertisement stated above proved to be extremely successful, leading to the
sale of almost 2 million Color Game Boy hardware units in the U.S. alone. The $50 profit
margin on each item has led to almost $100 million in profits resulting from the initial $10
million advertising campaign (Lefton 1998).


The rhetorical power of Escape to color pales (pun intended) to that of the more recent
argument Gotta catch em all! Introduced in the mid-popularity phase of Pokmon, it provided
Nintendo with a way to keep the notoriously short attention spans of children locked on to the
franchise Nintendo was creating. Accompanying the new catch phrase was the production of
Pokmon trading cards which opened the market to a non-video game playing audience and the
creation of the true social phenomenon.

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These trading cards, which have brought in around $300 million in sales for 1999, are
marketed in a way that makes it difficult but not impossible to collect a complete set
(Monster madness, 1999). In fact, much like the video game, trades are necessary to complete
the full set of Pokmon characters and cards. Schools around the country are banning the cards
for the disruptive effect the cards are having on children, and a class-action lawsuit has been filed
against Nintendo, its licensing agency, 4 Kids Entertainment, and card maker Wizards of the
Coast, alleging these companies are creating an illegal gambling enterprise (Monster
madness, 1999).
The other major impact of the trading cards is the introduction of the Pokmon
phenomenon to girls. The video game industry has traditionally catered to young males, focusing
on game titles of interest to boys and neglecting those of girls. Through the introduction of
gender-neutral trading cards (girls have never been averse to collectibles like Beanie Babies,
Barbie, and other dolls, but until Pokmon most trading cards had either centered on sports or
science-fiction/fantasy based games like Magic: The Gathering) Nintendo allowed Pokmon to
gain a grasp on girls, whod been interested in the cute characters in their brothers video
games anyway. Suddenly, playing video games was an appropriate activity for girls to be
involved in, especially because the portable, handheld system the Pokmon games were played
on is less overtly a video game than the traditional image of boys sitting around a television
If one argument based in informal logic is creating what is clearly a social phenomenon,
its merits for being analyzed are certainly legitimate. The conclusion of [if you want to be a
Pokmon master you] Gotta catch em all! allows for two specific inferences that once again
come from two separate audiences. The older audience draws the inference that there is really no

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point in being a collector, unless a card set is completed (clearly creating a need in the child, if
only to save face or, in some circumstances, appealing to the common attribute of competition
among children. Thus, buying (or, as stated above, having a parent buy) Pokmon cards is a
means to an end; however, as parents allege in the class-action lawsuit, Nintendo keeps
introducing new cards to ensure no card set is ever complete. The younger audience, being
entirely familiar with the concept of Pokmon masters, (essentially a Pokmon master is
someone who has collected all 150 Pokmon characters, although the wildly-popular television
show and movie have somewhat complicated this definition) wants to attain this goal as well and
seems to endlessly repeat the mantra provided by Nintendo.
Its unlikely Nintendo cares what reasoning children use to conclude they simply must
acquire all things Pokmon. As long as people are purchasing one of the more than 1,000 items
of Pokmon merchandise, it seems apparent the company and its shareholders will be happy.
This isnt to say the company doesnt rely on child psychologists to provide information as to
how children think and will react to certain arguments. Drawing on the assertion most children
lack the ability to reason deductively, companies must create arguments where easy inferences
can be made off of conclusions to arguments using informal logic, with unstated premises (since
the premises matter little to the children anyway) and the source of these unstated premises is
debated in academic circles for the fact of the matter (Bailin, 1990).
With Escape to color and Gotta catch em all! Nintendo has presented children with
an alternative to their current (and if you believe the advertisement, unnecessarily difficult)
situation, and later a reason to continue the status quo of Pokmon involvement and, in fact,
escalate participation. This accomplishes, in order, the persuasive goals of Adoption and

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Negative results from the Pokmon craze reach further than the above-stated lawsuit and
other classroom disruptions. Previous social phenomena have been linked to future pattern
behavior, as alleged by an attorney in a baseball card case, who states men who collected
baseball cards in their youth are more likely to struggle with gambling addictions in adulthood
(Monster madness, 1999).
Just being popular does not ensure categorizing a popular enterprise as a social
phenomenon. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beanie Babies, and last years Christmas darling
Furby are unable to stand up to Hardles definition. However, by combining Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles television popularity, the collectible popularity of Beanie Babies, and the
commercial popularity of Furby, the Pokmon franchise has attained societal influence, and,
through the lawsuits, a long-lasting influence that qualifies it thoroughly as a social phenomenon.
Social phenomena have been a focus of research for quite a long period of time, and it
could be argued the title has been applied to a few too many ideas or concepts. However, the idea
of argumentation is rarely approached when examining social phenomena. This is unfortunate,
for almost every social phenomena has some persuasive action or argument at its root. For a
society to take part in, and voluntarily allow itself to be influenced by the social phenomenon,
there must be an outside force creating the need in the society for whatever the phenomenon
Even more intriguing is the use of media to deliver this persuasive message. The current
state of the media, pandering to the short attention span of a growing audience, lacks the time or
resources to construct formal arguments for a group of receivers to analyze and decide upon.
Informal argument is the tool of the media, and whether one takes the stance the arguer provides

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the inferred premises of an informal argument, or that the premises are created in the receiver,
the presence of informal argument in society is undeniable.
Therefore, it is suggested more research be done into informal argument in society,
particularly that aimed at children who lack deductive reasoning ability. How do arguers tailor
informal argument to produce the desired inference from children with such an open-ended
proposition? More specifically, what tactics are necessary to complete the powerful informal
This essay has shown the creation of a social phenomenon through two simple informal
arguments. Its likely the next social phenomenon relies on a similar method to create the

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Cowan, J. (1964). The uses of argument an apology for logic. In D. Ehninger (Ed.),
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Fine, G. et al. (1990). Leisure, work, and the mass media. In S. Feldman & G. Elliott (Eds.), At
the Threshold: the Developing Adolescent (pp. 225-254). Cambridge: Harvard University
Hardle, C. (1998). The internet as a social phenomenon. Unpublished manuscript, Earlham
Harrington, P. (1999, July 28). Fake goods mar pokmon craze. Seattle Times, p. C1.
Klacztnski, P., & Narasimham, G. (1998). Representations as mediators of adolescent deductive
reasoning. Developmental Psychology, 34, 865-881.
Lefton, T. (1998, November 9). Nintendos pokmon on the way to blockbuster status.
Brandweek, 39, p. 5.
Monster Madness (1999, November 12). Entertainment Weekly, 512, p. 10.