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Norwegian Politicians Are Obsessed with Pokemon Go

Instead of listening to hearings on defense policy or preparing for high-level meetings, some of Norway's top politicians are playing Pokémon Go.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15:  An Oddish Pokemon character appears in front of a London taxi during a game of Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has become a global phenomenon, on July 15, 2016 in London, England. The app lets players roam using their phone's GPS location data and catch Pokemon to train and battle.The game has added millions to the value of Nintendo, which part-owns the franchise. (Photo by )
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15: An Oddish Pokemon character appears in front of a London taxi during a game of Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has become a global phenomenon, on July 15, 2016 in London, England. The app lets players roam using their phone's GPS location data and catch Pokemon to train and battle.The game has added millions to the value of Nintendo, which part-owns the franchise. (Photo by )

A hearing Wednesday on Norwegian defense planning had just gotten underway. Trine Skei Grande, the leader of the Liberal Party, gazed at the speaker before ducking her head and tapping vigorously on her smartphone. Perhaps there was a more urgent matter distracting her from the sober discussion at hand.

But to the contrary, Grande, the bespectacled leader of a small left-wing opposition party, was playing Pokémon Go, an internationally popular smartphone game in which players stalk city streets in search of mythical Pokémon creatures and go to landmarks, known as Pokéstops in the game, to stock up on hunting supplies. In the video broadcast of the hearing, Grande is seen sending her avatar to one such Pokéstop and spinning it for free items.

After Norwegians hammered her for being disrespectful, Grande said she would cease to play the game during meetings, but maintained that “some of us have heads that listen better when we are also doing brain dead [activities]. We aren’t all the same.”

And indeed, Grande can hardly be blamed for preferring Pokémon to the monotony of politics when the country’s prime minister is herself a dedicated player. Prime Minister Erna Solberg took a break this week in between meetings in the Slovak capital of Bratislava to beef up her Pokémon team.

Video footage showed the 55-year-old head of state with her eyes glued to her smartphone, dragging bodyguards and senior officials along with her. She told a television crew that she was trying to walk far enough for her Pokémon eggs, which contain the game’s rarest specimen, to hatch. Solberg has already spent enough time in Pokémon Go’s virtual world to make it past level 14, a fairly advanced status, she told reporters last week.

Solberg got into the game “the day after I gave two interviews where I said I didn’t play it,” she explained to Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

Having an entourage of bodyguards, as Solberg does, can come in handy in averting disasters. Absent-minded players have walked off cliffs, discovered dead bodies floating in rivers, and gotten shot at for wandering into people’s homes.

In Norway, a quarrel over the game between two men playing it at a city park escalated into a brawl that left one of them hospitalized.

That could lend a whole new tenor to future showdowns between Norway’s ruling party and Grande’s Liberal opposition.

Photo credit: OLIVIA HARRIS/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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