Are video games and libertarianism a natural fit?

(Reason Magazine)
(courtesy Reason magazine)

The June issue of Reason, the monthly libertarian magazine for "free markets and free minds," focuses on video games and features everything from new polling about the beliefs of U.S. gamers to a list of video games that "every libertarian must play."

According to the magazine's editor in chief, Matt Welch, gaming and libertarianism are a pretty natural fit.

"People who game tend to be much more tolerant, pretty skeptical of state power and take a more grass-roots, bottom-up view of the world -- and are certainly more in favor of legalizing marijuana," Welch said Thursday in an interview with The Switch. "It's not that everyone who plays video games is a secret libertarian, but that their list of shared attributes is now mainstream, and it's importantly different than what we've seen traditionally."

"How gaming is making America freer -- and more fun," proclaims the issue's cover under a headline describing the United States as a "video game nation." The cover art, in an homage to Grand Theft Auto V, features a man in a suit playing a video game and pointing an index finger upward while a scantily clad woman stands in a doorway looking outraged. At the man's feet are a bong and a 3-D printed gun.

Asked if some female gamers or readers might find the scene a little off-putting, Welch says his team tried to soften the art to make it appear less "jerkish" and more mainstream but wanted to "stay true to the original."  (The original art from the game features a poster of a bikini-wearing babe on the wall and the male character flipping his middle finger.)

Welch, 45, says his own last sustained period of video gaming was a stint with Civilization II in the 1990s but that the magazine has "a lot of gamers on staff." And since the domestic video game industry has surpassed Hollywood as a moneymaker, Welch says, there's no question about its cultural value.

"It has all kinds of broader significance that's very surprising to me -- the gaming universe, especially all these multiplayer games, which are actually the best economic experiment you can ever devise because you can measure everything," Welch says. "It's sort of a bizarre but logical thing."

Among the gaming-themed articles in the issues are a piece on Valve's in-house economist Yanis Varoufakis and one on the economy of the space-themed, online, multiplayer game EVE Online.

There's also a feature on Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a prominent gamer in Congress. Welch describes Polis as "probably the most libertarian dude in the house," right up there with some Republicans and potentially among a new breed of libertarians who defy the traditional right versus left mold.

Welch also sees gaming as an art form -- the subject of an article by Reason.com editor in chief Nick Gillespie -- and one that allows individuals to grow by gaining new experiences and discovering different ways to express themselves.

"Even in Civ, you're creating identities where you decide if you're going to be an asshole dictator or not," Welch said. "And when you are able to go out there and experiment generally with identity, you're more invested in having the latitude to do that, and it makes you more tolerant."

The gaming issue is part of a larger strategy of themed issues for the print magazine, Welch says. The magazine did a surveillance-focused issue last year, as well as one on criminal justice.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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