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Pokémon Go, community, and spontaneous order

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The long awaited augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go, based on the long running video game franchise, was released in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand late last week. The game allows players to find and capture Pokémon, like the famous Pikachu, in the real world as they walk around streets and parks throughout their cities.

While the game is an entertaining diversion, it serves as a catalyst for something greater. With Pokémon Go, a beautiful emergent order of community has already started. Neighbors and strangers alike come together to track down another Pokémon, or team up to take down a rival Pokémon gym. The free-to-play game simultaneously provides exercise (as players must walk to catch anything), amusement, community, and friendship.

This is partially by design. Archit Bhargava (an employee Niantic, Inc, the game’s developer) says “It’s all about getting people moving, getting them exploring the world around them…We want players to have those real-world experiences either with people they know or people they meet because of the game.” 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.”

In the past, many have lectured on the threat of alienation from the digital and technological age. Technology could separate us, fracture the bonds of community, and erode genuine human relationships. While this is a possibility, what really matters is how technology is used. Cell phones can be a way to connect with friends and family across the world, or they could lead people to shut out the world around them. Video games can be a vehicle for isolation and seclusion, or an avenue for building relationships and a community, like Pokémon Go.

There’s something more to admire about Pokémon Go as well; joy. In a fallen world, it’s easy for crimes and crises to occupy thoughts and hearts, and for people to become despondent. Over the last weekend, there was more joy in the hearts and minds of thousands of people across the world, all because of a game. Jeffrey Tucker, in an article titled “How Pokémon GO Brightened a Dark World,” writes:

Crucially, people were meeting each other with something in common – people of all races, classes, religions; none of it mattered. They found new friends and came together over a common love … Indeed, none of these fears have panned out. In fact, the opposite has proven true. The digital revolution has connected people as never before and given rise to more of what we love in life, whatever that happens to be.

Families are coming together. Shut-ins are exploring the world around them. Communities are getting stronger, families are getting closer, and the world is getting a little brighter. Not from a government program, but from the spontaneous actions of thousands of people working together and finding joy.

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Tyler Groenendal

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