Of Course Games Are Political

It’s been a wild year in politics these past few months, and there are no signs that this will change anytime soon. As with most cultural events, this tends to bleed into the media we consume. As such, there are both people who celebrate the addition of politics into media, and those who abhor it. This commonly manifests in the meme-level response “keep politics out of x”. With the controversies and subsequent blowback over whitewashing (and lack of starring Asian roles) in Doctor Strange, Ghost in The Shell, Marvel’s Iron Fist, and Death Note, a large portion of people seem to want to consume media in a vacuum and ignore these issues. My personal experience tends to be more rooted in the video game space, considering the rise of progressive themes in games. Especially after the storm that was Gamergate, some people hate the idea of political themes in video games. I’d like to delve into why that claim is disingenuous, and why it’s never been possible.

When talking about politics in video games, a good place to start might be the Grand Theft Auto series. A lightning rod for controversy, GTA has never been shy about including political topics in their settings. GTA, with all its warts, does have a basis in satire, even if it is mostly present in the side content. In the worlds of Liberty City and San Andreas, for example, there are television programs parodying both “liberal social justice warriors” and “right-wing conservative firebrands” as uninformed, misguided, and wrong. It’s the classic South Park approach where “caring in one way or another is the ultimate sin”. Regardless, politics are incredibly present in these games. So, how could anyone ever claim that they don’t want politics in games?

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On Old Hats and Orson Welles

You know what was a legitimately amazing game? The Last Of Us. Yes, I’m still on about this. I’m probably going to be on about it for a while. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played, hands-down, and this is as close to gaming’s “Citizen Kane moment” as many people are ever going to agree upon. I’ve heard the argument that this isn’t possible because of the way that we relate to adapting video game technology, and that older games are too frustrating, clunky, and obsolete for generations of newer gamers to play. I don’t buy it.

orsonwellesLet me explain, briefly, what is meant by “Citizen Kane moment.” It’s not a perfect metaphor. The film‘s 1941 release was not met with the great fanfare that our cultural nostalgia would indicate. The film fared poorly at the box office, and won a single Oscar for Best Screenplay. It wasn’t until film theorists and film history buffs looked back on the film in the late fifties and sixties that we decided that the film was a masterwork. Keep in mind that when Kane was released, Welles was a first time film director, a 25 year old theatre director a few years off the shutdown of the Federal Theatre Project. It may have been overtaken by Vertigo, but the idea is that looking backwards we see something truly great and groundbreaking. The metaphor is imperfect because The Last of Us is great right now. Continue reading