Are games political and should they be ?

Are games political ? I can already imagine that some of you have started to roll your eyes at such a question.  Especially as today’s society is more divided and impatient at the prospect of hearing the other. But have no fear for after meditating upon the tallest mountain for three days. I have returned full of (debatable) wisdom.  So let’s answer this questions once and for all:

Are games political  ?

Games like any art are subject to the influences of the author’s culture , point of views , politics. They will always to some extend subcounsly have an effect on development.  For example media shapes culture by espousing or rejecting certain values or point of views.  These will stay in the back of your mind regardless if you agree with them or not. And if they contradict your beliefs it will make you defend or justify your beliefs.

Game developers are creatures of their culture

Andrew Breitbart once said that politics is downstream from culture: modern culture shapes people’s beliefs. The developers  themselves are products of their culture. Thus the game they make will be influenced by their beliefs consciously or otherwise.

Take a game like Prison architect in which you must build and manage a prison designed for mass incarceration.  It would be naive to believe that this american developer was not influenced by the politics of mass incarceration.

Could you imagine a game such as missile commander : a game where you defend against nuclear missiles not being influenced by the cold war?

So that’s that I guess all the people who have a problem with politics in video games are just being silly. Politics will always have an effect to some extent on all entertainment and their grievances are unfounded.

 Why people don’t want politics in game

Not quite , in my experience when people say they have problems with politics in games. They aren’t referring to the concept and political themes in a game but rather the approach these games take to deliver their message.  As I have said before our society has become more divided and more importantly less empathetic to the other side of the aisle. This results in some games feeling more like propaganda or forced.

A short word on propaganda games

So you might be asking what is the difference between a propaganda and just a game with an opinion you disagree with ?

Well while propaganda and how they use gameplay mechanics to guide player to a predetermined conclusion deserve its own segment. I will look at game that were made for consumers first and to further an agenda second. So I won’t be talking about games like american army.

Forced politics

Forced politics is one of the more dreaded symptoms of a poor politic implementation in a game. You know what I am talking about.  You are enjoying a piece of media when suddenly a political element appears that is completely disconnect and forced.

I would point to the Baldur’s gate: Siege of dragonspire as an example of this with its implementation  Mizhena a transgender character. For the record I am indifferent to the inclusion of trans character either way. But you can clearly see that this character is here to score political points. This is made more apparent by how poorly she is written and how the player isn’t allowed to interact properly with character and thus the concept. The game tries to force you to come to a certain conclusion by making all your answers positive which is made only worst when you compare how varied your dialogue is with the other npc.

The difference between good and bad politcal games

A bad political game will just state its view and bludgeon the player with it until they accept or get fed up and leave. For a political game to be truly effective the questions asked by a political game have to be open and allow the player to discover (or reinforcing) these new perspectives. This will happen naturally as the player interacts with the game instead of the game simply stating a point of view and talking down to the players.

A perfect example that encapsulate this is Deus Ex human revolution. Its dystopia showing the dangers of great social change,wealth discrepancy and transhumanism. But the game never states what is wrong or right. Allowing the player to make his own path and come to his own conclusion.

A good political game doesn’t need to hold the player and scream at him what the message is. It is more effective to simply presented him with a fundamentally political situation and  food for thought.

That doesn’t mean the game has to be evenhanded in its judgement of a political statement take the game Orwell which is a game where you take the role of a state operative and monitors surveillance sources and infringe or privacy for the greater good. Now you don’t need to be a genius to figure out the author’s view on the matter but he doesn’t try to convince you of his opinion he simply lets you experience the concept and lets you come to your own conclusion.

Exploration not dictation

So to conclude video games have always been and will continue to be influenced in some way by politics. There is no way of controlling that. However you can control how you communicate this message to your players. If we want people to be more open about having politics in games, it must approached from a place of exploration rather than the game dictating to player. Let’s be honest though when we live in a world  where people seem incapable of being reasonable or understanding of the other side, it will probably get worse before it gets better.

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