Pokémon Go

Is Pokemon Go the Most Libertarian Game Ever Made?

Credit Pokemon Go's success to its lack of rules and regulations.



Across the street from my apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a small city park, one block long by one block wide.

At night, it's usually pretty empty. There's a handful of homeless people who sleep there in the summer and the occasional group of twenty-somethings crossing from the bars on the north side of the park to the bars on the south side. 

At least that's how it used to be, before Pokemon Go came along.

Now there's crowds of people in the park every evening, staring at their phones, wandering around and hoping to catch a Pikachu or an Eevee.  Believe it or not, they even talk to each other.

Ernie Smith, a writer at Tedium, has seen the same thing happening in other places, and he sees (or maybe doesn't see) the invisible hand at work.

"It looks spontaneous from a distance—totally unplanned, as if they all stumbled there independently," Smith writes.

That's not exactly true, of course.  Those people, and thousands of others like them, have been lured out of their homes and apartments by the game—which is, almost by definition, planned.

But, Smith says, the whole thing got him "thinking a bit about the nature of spontaneity, the cosmic way that we do things on the fly, and the way those things connect together."

Libertarians know all about that sort of thing. Spontaneous order, the idea that human beings when left to their own devices tend to figure out the best way to organize and run their personal worlds (and social structures) without having to be told what to do, has been a basic tenet of libertarian thought for decades.

Does that make Pokemon Go the most libertarian game ever made?

It might be. People freely chose the play the game and, in the course of playing it, they freely choose to associate with other people. You can play Pokemon Go alone in your bedroom, but you won't be very successful. The game, like society at large, requires an individual player to seek out co-operation and competition in order to prosper. Those social engagements aren't happening because the government (or even Prof. Oak) forced them to happen—they just do, freely.

Aside from the part that built on 90s nostalgia, much of the app's success can be attributed to its lack of rules and regulations.  Yes, the game makes you physically move around in order to catch and level-up Pokemon, but otherwise it lets the players decide when, where and how the action happens. There's no Pokemon government telling you to go to the gym once a week, limiting how many Pidgeys you can catch or how long you are allowed to keep those cute little monsters cooped up inside those tiny Pokeballs (although PETA is actually worried about that, believe it or not).

The same sort of spontaneous order has long been an important element in online roleplaying games, like the successful Warcraft series, which sets up basic rules for how the fictional world of the game works and then lets players work together or separately to do pretty much whatever they want.

The difference, though, is that Pokemon Go takes that premise out of the basement and into the real world.

It's a nearly seamless transition because so much of the world is already subject to spontaneous order.  

"With Pokémon Go, a beautiful emergent order of community has already started," writes Tyler Groenendal, a blogger for the Acton Institute.  "The game provides the opportunity for building social institutions, but it's the actions of the individuals in the game that build it, forming a beautiful spontaneous order 'of human action, not human design.'"

While there has been much hand-wringing over the way modern technology can divide and isolate people, Groenendal says, it really comes down to how that technology is used. Sure, Millennials might be hiding behind their cell phones all day, but those cell phones allow anyone living today to access an entire world of information and social interaction that would have been unfathomable 25 years ago.

Pokemon Go is capturing more than the typical video game crowd. It now has more users than Tinder—making a case that it might be more powerful than one of humanity's most basic urges—and would-be Poke-masters cut across social, political and demographic lines.

"But with a design like Pokémon Go, there are no wallflowers, because everyone is brought together by a shared experience, one that appears on its own without any additional contrived strategies on the part of the creators of the game," concludes Smith.

The limitlessness of Pokemon Go's world is only possible because of how the game allows its players to order their own world. 

That idea works in the real world too, whether players look up from their phones long enough to notice or not.

NEXT: After Legalization in Colorado, Reports of Kids Who Accidentally Ate Marijuana Rose

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  1. Is Pokemon Go the Most Libertarian Game Ever Made?

    Too mainstream, so no.

    1. I disdained Pokemon Go before it was cool, man.

      1. Now that it’s cool to disdain Pok?mon Go, I only disdain it ironically. (waxes mustache)

        1. These masturbation euphemisms are getting multilayered.

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        2. These masturbation euphemisms are getting multilayered.

    2. I’m gonna go with Grand Theft Auto. The one set in Vice City.

      1. You nailed it

      2. Criminals aren’t interested in the liberty of others. They routinely seek to elevate themselves above others by denying others their rights to life, liberty, and property.

        Grand Theft Auto is closer to anarchism than libertarianism.

    3. I thought Monopoly was the most libertarian game – no?

  2. Somewhat OT – I’ve never been a big fan of Apple products, but this gave me a whole new level of appreciation for Steve Jobs. It’s the kookiest libertarian thing I’ve read all week:


    1. Additional points of interest:

      The bill (AB516) was the work of California Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin and was inspired by the hit-and-run death of Michael Bonanomi. Bonanomi was killed in 2013 by a car that was wearing paper dealer plates, and no one has ever been identified as the driver. “While this law will not bring Michael back, in the future it will go a long way in making sure that an offending vehicle and its driver are easier to identify and bring to justice,” Mullin wrote in a statement.

      Okay, so what’s the point? Oh…nevermind.

      Mullin’s statement also adds that the law will allow California to collect roughly $19 million a year in bridge and road tolls that the state currently loses due to unidentifiable cars on its roads.

      1. Well, since this will make it easier to find criminals, why don’t we require license plates for people too?

  3. It’s just a game.

  4. I think we can all agree that the Fallout series have to be in the running.

    1. Brett’s a Synth!

      *fires MIRV, kills everyone in the room*

      1. Ian kills you with an SMG burst before your turn starts.

        1. Sorry, but I’ve been in Fallout 4, no turns.

          The classics don’t run so well on my current rig.

  5. This may be the first game (even more than the Wii Fit or whatever it’s called) to have so thoroughly shattered the opposition (the subject of so much handwringing since the advent of Pong and perhaps since TV) between electronic entertainment and good old-fashioned engagement with the real world.
    As this piece reveals so vividly, it’s also bringing the traditional urban vision of Jane Jacobs–the real Jane Jacobs–into play in an exciting and completely unexpected new way. I feel a bit sad she didn’t get to witness the sight herself; she would undoubtedly have loved it. RIP, good lady.

    1. You mean totally ignoring the beauty of the urban fabric so you can concentrate on imaginary Japanese monster-things?

      1. Not sure if serious. You do realize that this game has brought countless people out and face to face with the “beauty of the urban fabric” who otherwise might have stayed at home and ignored it completely, right?

        1. I’ll admit it does some to be getting some otherwise sedentary people more exercise than they’ve had in months, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

          1. I’d go a bit further. There are quite a few people (and not just the sedentary ones) that the game has brought into neighborhoods they otherwise dare not tread, and they’re discovering that these places are not as terrifyingly perilous as they were led to believe.

            1. “they’re discovering that these places are not as terrifyingly perilous as they were led to believe.”

              Even North Philadelphia?

        2. Dubious. The same can be said of pot addicts venturing out to their pot dealer so they can be hooked up with a fix.

      2. Ms. Jacobs’s celebration of urban social activity was hardly reserved for wandering about “appreciating the beauty of the urban fabric.” I can assure you, when we spent an evening throwing a handball against a wall we were engrossed in nothing but the score; and when we spent one talking to each other in the street we were engrossed in nothing but our conversation.
        From the looks of it, Pokemon Go is indeed getting people of all ages to get out and explore their surroundings. It’s giving them quests and destinations, getting them to play a video game in the actual world and most certainly engaging them in it. It’s even encouraging socialization with strangers. Seems to me anyone sniffing at this is just displaying a stodgy highbrow discomfort at new manifestations of the virtues they claim to celebrate, as is so frequently done.
        Long story short, folks are out and about, having fun, engaging with their surroundings, and even interacting. Ms. J could not have asked for more.

      3. I’ve seen quite a few videos of people discovering areas otherwise completely unknown to them, so no.

    2. Engaged in the world like zombies are engaged in the world.

      1. Engaged is engaged. There’s nothing about this that’s particularly zombie-like.

        But I do find it vastly amusing how people insist on carving out a part of the real world and setting it aside, then talking about how engaging with it somehow enhances or distracts from the real world.
        The whole world and everything in it is real.

        Equivocation, and a bit of category error, is required to play these absurdist games. Pokemon no more takes you out of the world than Bridge. Or Go. Or hallucinations. Or sleep. Or dreams. They all exist, as part of the “texture” of the real world.
        Stop pointing at things and saying “that’s not real”. If it’s not, how is it you are pointing at it?

        Okay, so maybe it’s more ‘vastly annoying’ than ‘vastly amusing’ but it’s what comes from being a failure as a degreed philosopher. I must be a failure, I’ve never had to ask anyone if they’d like fries with their order.

  6. How come the libertarian game has to be so dumb? Also, Dungeons & Dragons.

  7. The Libertarian Case for President Pikachu

    Ignore all the breaking of the NAP.

    1. He flipped off Phillies fans.

      Pikachu for President!

      1. Then he has my vote for sure.

  8. The limitlessness of Pokemon Go’s world is only possible because of how the game allows its players to order their own world.

    So the makers don’t decide what are Pokestops or gyms or how the creatures level up or which creature exist in the game or the in-game mechanics of throwing the ball or artificially limit the supply of items in game?

    All games afford the ability of spontaneous ordering, from two players talking about Tetris at school way the way up to Call of Duty multiplayer mode becoming the world’s largest R&D lab for creating new ways of calling people a fag.

    1. My favorite video/computer game ever is SimCity 4, which really makes me question my libertarian bona fides since as a mayor I micromanage my city down to ridiculous levels. You WILL take my subway, Sims, and I will destroy this heavily-used highway if you don’t!

      1. Sims are not people. Sims are so stupid that they’ll drown if they look up in the rain. They are literally incapable of making a rational decision.

        1. Are you sure they aren’t people?

          1. Of course they’re not people. Have you paid any attention to the sim lifecycle? It’s very inhuman.

            1. You’re questioning SugarFree’s grasp of inhuman lifecycles??

      2. SimCity 4 is rad, especially if you download some of the user-created addons that make Sims’ usage of roads and other transit options more intelligent.

        1. You advocate mass brainwashing?

          1. No, but i am generally in favor of knowing how an onramp works.

        2. I like the idea, but it moves too slow. Also, how does a legal casino create crime?!?

          1. It attracts money launderers.

      3. Wrath of God mode is always the best mode.

      4. Mine would have to be The Original Roller Coaster Tycoon.

        I also made the customers ride most of the rides I wanted with strategically placed pathways. I never could seem to make them eat the Squid Tentacles on a Stick though, and usually lost money on concessions.

  9. Libertarians know all about that sort of thing. Spontaneous order, the idea that human beings when left to their own devices tend to figure out the best way to organize and run their personal worlds (and social structures) without having to be told what to do, has been a basic tenet of libertarian thought for decades.

    Yes, I learnt these basic concepts from an obscure little game. It had real estate, money, random chance, unforeseen consequences, unfair taxation, managing risk, even possible incarceration! It was called, “Monopoly.” And Top Hat, Sportscar, and a Scotty! Pretty uptown, no?

    I’m guessing Bhoem has never heard of this mysterious and arcane game.

    Does that make Pokemon Go the most libertarian game ever made?

    Uncle Pennybags asks, “Does it have tophats and monocles? Are there Top Hat & Monocle Pokeman?”

    1. Are there Top Hat & Monocle Pokeman?

      I would not be surprised.

      1. Indeed. Uncle Pennybags needs to get out more. And sue for IP and Trademark Infringement.

  10. Is Pokemon Go the Most Libertarian Game Ever Made?

    Well …., maybe after Mumblety-peg.

    1. A peek in Rich’s Closet….

      So, Rich, have you been raiding Stormy Dragon’s closet, or is there something you want to tell us?

  11. It sure seems like it was developed with spying in mind, so no.

  12. I’ll trade you a woodchippy for a dajjalabotabad. Anyone? Anyone??

    1. I’ll trade you “dajjalabatabad” for a “fuck off, slaver”.

  13. C’mon, guys, seriously??

    All this debate about the “most libertarian” game and NO ONE mentions Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale??

    I fail to see how you can get more libertarian than a game who’s motto is “Capitalism Ho!!”

  14. My only problem with Pokemon Go players is that is it has at least triples the number of people who run into me while playing. It is not uncommon for people to run into you looking at their phone now, but it has gotten way worse in the last few weeks. I’ve had less people run into me in mosh pits.

    1. i think the only down side is the number of people doing drive bys on the poke stops. the game won’t let you use the poke stop if you are going over something like 15MPH, so there are not accidents… it is just annoying that they are so completely missing the point.

      1. You can, actually. Not that I’ve done it while driving, but I do often have my phone out when my girlfriend is driving. If you’re going too fast you have only a very brief window when you’re near enough to the pokestop to activate it, but that’s the only limit.

  15. Onion called; they claim Reason is plagiarizing their site.

  16. My favorite libertarian game is Balance of Power.

  17. My favorite libertarian game is Balance of Power.

  18. My favorite libertarian game is “fuck off, slaver”.

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  20. I’m now pretty sure that Europe’s “immigration” problem is Nintendo’s fault.

  21. That’s really cool. I would be interested in seeing more graphs of different information you pull from these logs.

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  22. It;s the best game I have ever played. Nice article. iosemus download, provenance emulator

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