A (Video Game) World Without Politics

One of the calls coming out of GamerGate is for politics get out and stay out of video games.

A tweet saying, "Can we please just keep the agendas out of video games? Entertainment is meant to be the furthest possible thing from politics."

Comments like this. (Image sourced from: Twitter)

What would it mean to gaming if there were no more politics in video games? Imagining that we could actually put games in an apolitical box (pro-tip: we can’t), let’s have a look at what gaming would lose. In this case politics is being considered as “political principles or opinions“, the political opinions or sympathies of a person” and also “relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view”, with only a little bit of the “the art or science of government” definition.

Every Military Shooter Ever is DOA

Games like Battlefield and Call of Duty have soldiers (usually of the US variety) heading into fight off the evil Germans, Russians, Generic Middle Eastern people, Chinese and / or Koreans, depending on the era the game is set in. Sending troops into fight is an intensely political act, which can be seen in recent real-world conflicts. Most military shooters are set up so that there is a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad’ side, so that the ‘good’ US soldiers enter a foreign country and fight off the ‘bad’ side.

Unfortunately, if you are picking a ‘good’ side for a soldier, you are making a judgement call about the values held by each side, which is an agenda. Military Shooters have to go.

Every Current Era and Historical War Game Ever Must Go!

The above extends into other types of war game, like Real Time Strategy games, US Civil War titles, military vehicle sims and so on. Unless these are set up so they exist in completely fictional worlds where armies / vehicles show up to fight just because, politics is injected into the conflict. To quote Clausewitz: “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means“. War and politics are closely intertwined and conflicts can’t be separated from their current or historical context. Maybe some futuristic war titles would be permitted, but only in situations where soldiers fight battles based on no political motivations at all.

(Said futuristic war scenario doesn’t include the Command and Conquer series, which has a basis in modern geopolitical frameworks.)

No More Nazis

National Socialism was a political movement. BAM! GONE FROM GAMING! It’ll mean that the convenient villain punching bag that are Nazis will also have to disappear too, which then includes every game that features such characters.

Bye Bye BioShock

The entire BioShock franchise is filled with agendas, from Objectivism (BioShock) to Socialism (BioShock 2) to theocratic-based American Exceptionalism (BioShock: Infinite). This series judges these -isms to varying degrees, which make them unsuitable for the brave new politics-free world.

SimCity is Destroyed

Minecraft written on a screenshot from Minecraft

Minecraft is pretty apolitical, so there’s always that to play. (Image sourced from: IGN)

As pointed out by Errant Signal, the way SimCity suggests you build cities favours particular development approaches around high density urban planning. That’s a political judgement call – one made by government bodies in the real world – and these kind of simulation building games should be removed if they are vulnerable to being politically suggestive about the ‘right’ way to build such things.

Crime and Capitalism

Errant Signal suggests that Grand Theft Auto V has a particularly nihilistic wold view on politics in the modern United States, but the entire GTA series would have to go in an agenda-free world. Given that GTA (and other games of its ilk such as Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row) are focused on illicit activity in pursuit of capitalistic outcomes it wanders into the area of law, which is clearly politically linked.

Laws reflect the values a society holds as important and are constructed through a political process. Games like Police Quest and LA Noir are also gone, since playing as a character who enforces the law ensures the game has a political stance.

Ending Political Favourites

Civilisation has actual government settings like Monarchy and Democracy, with the government setting you choosing having different impacts on a society. It also involves actual political decisions about diplomacy versus warfare and (again, thanks to Errant Signal for this suggestion) has victory conditions that are arguably Western culture centric. If you wanted to get all reductionist, titles like Civilisation are all about politics. Politics is bad for games, so Civ needs to leave.

Fire All The Spies

The Splinter Cell and Metal Gear franchises feature US-trained soldiers sneaking into a variety of areas and sabotaging / stealing information at the behest of their handlers. Given how spying in these cases are politically motivated actions, these titles are no longer appropriate to play if you want agenda-free gaming.

A screenshot of Tetris on the GameBoy.

Apolitical gaming also includes Tetris, providing you can get over it being created by someone paid by the Soviet government (Image sourced from: Wikipedia)

Desmond Can Take A Holiday

The Assassin’s Creed titles feature an over-arching narrative of freedom-focused Assassins versus authoritarian-controllers the Knights Templar / Abstergo. This ongoing conflict is due to these differing political ideologies. Also, the use of historical situations (such as the American Revolution in Assassin’s Creed 3) loads up this franchise with ton of political baggage.

Keep On Running Sonic

When Sonic the Hedgehog was developed, designer Yuji Naka intentionally inserted environmentalist messages into the gameplay, which is why Sonic fights on the side of the natural world versus the polluting industrial work of Dr Robotnik. It’s a blatant agenda.

This Is An Incomplete List

There are lots of other examples that can be made, but my obvious point here is that trying to remove politics and agendas from video games eliminates a lot of classic and well-respected titles. Removing politics from video games actually diminishes the industry.

So let’s not take politics out of video games, okay?

11 thoughts on “A (Video Game) World Without Politics

  1. *applause*

    Thank you for this, because it’s so very true. Of course, then you’ll have folks arguing some politics are okay, and they don’t want to see others, but at least they’re being honest at that point.

    • Thanks! And yes, I agree – those people who say, “I don’t want feminism and SJW agendas in my games!” are at least being honest. However, it’s a less defensible position than just decrying all politics in games.

  2. Well to be fair he said to keep “AGENDAS out of video games”, not politics. My assumption here is the fear being game devs being so scared to deter corporate sponsors and publishers that they tailor games to equally patronize the LGBT/racial equality/feminist/anti squirrel defamation/portly sailor association/red headed republican society, over telling a good story with characters that don’t necessarily like any of the above.

    • I think a lot of AAA game developers do everything they can to make sure their game is inoffensive within the tropes of video games, i.e. violence is fine, sex should be hidden / not happen and LGBTI characters should fit comfortable stereotypes.

      I had a thought the other day about how big the ocean of excretement that would occur if a AAA developer did a game where you played a gay soldier who had to rescue his love the Prince from peril. It wouldn’t be hard to do, but holy hell, it would be a storm.

      Much easier to not court that controversy and let the status quo see that sales revenue roll in.

  3. Are made-up politics allowed? RIFT has a conflict between the theocratic Guardians and the technologically-progressive Defiants. I’ve lost track of whether WoW’s Alliance vs Horde conflict still has any political underpinnings or is just “because PvP”.

    On the plus side, banning politics would have to include eliminating The Mittani from every plane of existence.

    • Yes, non-real world politics still should be banned because it just leads to real world politics. Assassins versus Templars is a nonsensical conflict, but both groups have political viewpoints that should be expunged if gaming was to be kept “pure”.

  4. My “problem” with politics in games is more of blatant propaganda and certain agendas. You’re right that games cannot escape politics, but they could possibly avoid presenting “only correct” (especially politically correct) stances.
    Iirc first Call of Duty is a good game and politically neutral, Political Machine is quite unbiased too despite being stricte political game.
    On the other side are games like Democracy and many global/grand strategy games where certain political actions/choices punish player according to developer bias to promote certain ideologies as correct (most of the time politically correct ones – democracy ftw :P).

  5. The issue is not that there’s politics, that there’s culture. The issue is more that there’s hiring, firing, nepotism and ostracizing going on over politics and culture.

    Especially, such activism is ugly when it comes from people who have little understanding of the medium.

    There are few classical works of literature that don’t have something you could get offended at if you came at it from the right (wrong) angle. However, literature is a high status medium. If someone misinterprets or doesn’t get the context of a work, and as a consequence condemns it, literary authorities can just smile condescendingly at them and ignore it.

    This doesn’t work in games, because games and gamers are low status. If someone with status from the outside (say, a lawyer or politician) comes in and starts condemning and praising according to their own taste, then they can actually get power. They can actually succeed at trampling subcultures they don’t understand. The comics code authority was exactly that, 60 years ago.

    When high status outsiders come into a low status subculture to clean it up and make it respectable, what you can expect is division. Between those who side with the newcomers (“finally we can get a little more respectable!”) and those who resist (“this house may stink, but it’s our house!”). That certainly happened with the comics code, and that’s exactly what I’m seeing in gaming, too.

    • Arguably areas like literature have become more ‘high status / high culture’ by becoming mainstream and also allowing critique of their content. Such works allow for many different interpretations.

      There are a vocal portion of gamers who refuse any kind of critique or interpretation of video games. As games have gone mainstream, it has become harder to mesh the “games are art so deserve artistic protection” and “games are just games, leave them alone” mentalities. If games are just games, then cutting bits out doesn’t really matter that much, since they are so low value anyway. But that causes cries of “censorship!” because of that portion of gamers who want to both have freedom of expression and freedom from criticism in their medium of choice.

      Funny you mention the Comics Code Authority – it’s seen as a bad thing now, but it provided comics with a shield against criticism and an audience (i.e. kids) for a very long time. It was only during the 90s when comics became popular among non-kid audiences that comic book companies looked to add more mature themes to their flagship titles.

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