Oh, how I like Yu-Gi-Oh. I am not a seven-year-old boy, but a 36-year-old mother. Since September my five-year-old son has begun his formal education at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School. One of the biggest learning tools he has embraced is that of Yu-Gi-Oh and I cannot sing its praises enough.

For those of you who do not know what Yu-Gi-Oh is let me give a brief overview. Yu-Gi-Oh is a playing/trading card system in which people duel each other based on the cards in their decks. It is similar to Magic Cards, but it is based on Japanese Anime. The cards have different values, actions and purposes. Alas, I will not try to explain how the game is played with my limited understanding. Instead, I suggest you get some hands-on dueling lessons from someone under twelve.

There are tons of Yu-Gi-Oh spin-off consumer items including everything from a television program to toothbrushes. The television show is a series in which duelers duel each other. And while most parents try to limit television time, the Yu-Gi-Oh show does teach those watching the powers of each card. New card packs come out every few months, of course, necessitating a significant monetary outlay. However, we have found that desire for new “booster decks” can create inspiration to earn and save money.

I will begin with explaining the noneducational benefits of Yu-Gi-Oh. One of the things I love about Yu-Gi-Oh is that it doesn’t require batteries. Unlike Game Boys or remote control cars, Yu-Gi-Oh can be played while camping and without recharging. I also appreciate the portability or Yu-Gi-Oh. You can bring it anywhere, especially if you have a way to contain your current deck so that it doesn’t slip out of your hand and into a mud puddle. Even if a Yu-Gi-Oh player does not wish to duel him or herself (an act apparently possible for hours at a time), a player can plan and plot various future strategies.

Now, for the educational benefits of Yu-Gi-Oh: namely reading and math. Yu-Gi-Oh dueling is based on a mathematical system of attack and defense points which ultimately impact a player’s life points. This system requires adding and subtracting numbers in the thousands on a regular basis. Playing Yu-Gi-Oh has inspired my five-year-old son Eli to learn how to add and subtract numbers in the thousands with carrying. Now, granted, the more complicated adding and subtracting he does on paper, but dueling requires quick access to calculations and thus encourages making calculations in a player’s head. This encourages duelers to develop short cuts (such as memorizing 5 plus 5 always equals 10).

Yu-Gi-Oh also encourages reading. The names of the cards have very complicated words such as Winged Dragon of Ra and Obelisk the Tormentor and each card has a picture, assisting recognition of certain words. Thus, some words become recognizable (dragon) and can be used to read the name of a new, unknown card (Slifer the Sky Dragon). In addition to the name of the card, each card has a section on the bottom that describes the powers of the card. While a dueler may not be able to read this section, he or she is inspired to do so in order to perfect the game.

An easily overlooked educational benefit of Yu-Gi-Oh is that of memorizing a complex system of rules. Let me explain. Several hundred years ago a “complete” education in the Western World would require memorization of ranks of angels. This was a very complex set of rules, names and powers to memorize. While memorization of Yu-Gi-Oh card powers, or those of Angels, may not be directly useful for running a business or learning a skill, memorization and attention to this kind of detail is what is required in test preparation (think SATs and learner’s permits) and other activities (think inventory management and anatomy).

Finally, Yu-Gi-Oh dueling has a certain etiquette. Bowing before a duel, or shaking hands after a duel may not teach the etiquette of our modern world, it does teach that different “niceties” are required in different systems; thus preparing duelers for future business luncheons. And, duelers who cannot maintain their decorum during a rough and tumble match will not be sought out for future duels.

No, Yu Gi Oh isn’t perfect. There aren’t enough female characters, the dueling is based on characters fighting, and it encourages consumerism. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. There you have it. What may seem to some adults like a waste of time, money and energy better spent on other educational pursuits, Yu-Gi-Oh can help kids to learn. So, go ahead, put that starter or booster deck under the pillow the next time the tooth fairy visits.