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The RPG Files: Should Games Make Political Statements?

By Christopher Coke on December 05, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Should Games Make Political Statements?

Gamergate has invaded the public consciousness. What was once a simple conversation about ethics in gaming journalism has spiraled into an all-out shouting match with anything progressive firmly falling in the movement’s sights and any critics being quickly labeled as bigots. As I’ve played through Dragon Age: Inquisition, encountering characters of every stripe and sexuality, my mind kept returning to these themes. Did Bioware include this character or that for a reason? Is this dialogue choice present purely to assuage the left or absent to appease the right? Should video games even be raising these questions?

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Now, I’m a firm believer that games are art and that they’re for everybody. It shouldn’t matter about your background or sexuality; if you’re interested in a game, there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy it, no matter what someone else says. My question is about how politicized video games have become and whether it is ultimately helpful or harmful to video games as a whole.

We, of course, can’t ignore that video games have always been political. Just the week, a British lawmaker commented on his 1981 bill demonizing Space Invaders, of all things. Yet, in 2014, it seems like video games have entered into the great Left vs. Right debate. The media, as it is often accused, is the progressive mouthpiece, and GamerGate is the conservative Guardian of Video Game Purity. Like so many areas of our increasingly connected lives, social issues of liberalism and conservatism have invaded the video game world.

This is, I should add, a fitting evolution, if dismaying at the moment. If we’re going to consider games art then we must accept their inherent freedom of expression, even if that doesn’t mean bloody tunnel-shooters and masculine power fantasies all the time. It is the right of the artist to send any message he so pleases in his artwork, even if others disagree or believe it skews the experience. And with that, we must also accept the criticism of games as social objects which belong to everybody and not just the select few writers whose opinions we already agree with. If you accept games as art, then you must accept their critique, from feminists, post-modernists, high schoolers, and Sunday School teachers: anyone else willing to pick up a pen. That’s part of the deal.

Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish all of that would just stay out of it sometimes. Maybe it’s my inner child trying to reclaim a little of what’s his: sometimes I just want to play a game and not worry about what Bioware’s trying to say with it. Sometimes I want to read about a game and just relish in the shared enjoyment we all get out of it. I’ll admit it, there are times I just don’t want to read about the latest terrible thing one gamer did to another because they dared to have a vagina – and the horrible comment section that’s sure to follow. Sometimes I step back from the heady conversations about ethics and protocol. Those things bleed over into my game experience.

As much as I love the new Dragon Age, being pulled out of the game to ask questions about its developer is a bad thing. It’s like reading a book, anything that reminds you you’re reading is a net negative for the overall experience.

The problem is, there’s no easy solution. The obvious answer would be to purge ourselves of gaming media and accept games on their own merit; but doing so robs us of the community, camaraderie, and let’s be frank here, meta-entertainment that comes from being a gamer. We love reading about games! And at least for my part, I enjoy getting into discussions of games-as-art and digging into these discussions in ways that simply weren’t possible years ago. Do we ask the blog-based games press to hold back their feelings in opinion articles? That doesn’t seem reasonable either.

I think the crux of it is that we’ve arrived. Games are at a point where they can no longer exist in isolation. Game makers, like college professors, are political figures: what they do ripples through the discourse. The further games push into the mainstream, the harder it will be to separate games from culture. And don’t be coy, you want that sometimes too.

I can only offer my opinion: As much as I sometimes want to turn off all of that extra, I wouldn’t want to lose the discussion that surrounds gaming culture today. Games are art and it’s about time we treated them as such. Except, with a little more maturity from certain parts of the Internet.

What do you think: should games be making political statements or should they keep quiet and just be games?

Quick Hits:

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is receiving its second DLC pack on 12/16, titled with far too many words as “The Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack: The Holodome Onslaught.” The new pack adds a new difficulty level and story content for Gaige and Axton. A return of 9 Toes (3 Balls) maybe? Too much too hope for.

Ready the edge of your seats, Ni No Kuni and White Knight Chronicles fans! Developer Level-5 is set to unveil a new game at E3 2015. Ni No Kuni was last year’s surprise hit, and a title which refined JRPG gaming while also making good use of Studio Ghibli for its artwork, so fingers crossed for a sequel!

The Crew is out and looking pretty good. Well, as good as a racing RPG really can be, I guess. It’s kind of an impure little duckling: half-mmo, half-RPG, and half-bigassracinggame. Yes, it has three halves. Because polygons, that’s why. Oh heck, I’m just going to let Bill tell you in his Review-in-Progress.

Hey bro, I heard you like Disney. How about PlayStation? You’d better sit down. How about some Disney in your PlayStation?! Well, you just might have it. Speaking to IGN, Tai Yasue firmly hinted that Kingdom Hearts 2.5 on PS4 is something the firm is exploring, though they’re not ready to commit to anything quite yet. Honestly, though? It sounds likely.

And rounding out a relatively slow RPG news week, iOS users have a treat to look forward to with the release of the Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall expansion on December 4th. Packing over twenty hours of gameplay for $6.99, the value here is a no brainer. Now just tap, tap, tap your way to victory!

That’s all from us, folks. Enjoy your weekend!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.