Culture & Society

How Gaming is Becoming Political – And What It Means for the Future of Video Games

Can we move past Gamergate, please?

Seeing life through the lens of perpetual politics is a path towards misery, but it is one that dominates the media landscape right now. And we emphasize media landscape because it is an artificial construction and one that should be rejected, especially by gamers. Even long before Gamergate, gaming communities have come under fire for a whole range of things from violence in games to representation of minorities and other issues. But nothing has quite galvanized popular sentiment against gaming, in whatever form, quite like seeing something through the lens of political activism. This, coupled with the potent communities that games can create around them, has led to a bit of a spiritual crisis in the gaming community. Allowing the media on either side to dictate the narrative to us, gamers are largely falling in line to SJW/liberal/progressive or Alt-Right/conservative/Trumpist camps as expected. These two paradigms, really divorced from gaming as an industry and niche, are tools of a different kind of oppression, one that seeks to poison and brainwash people in the hopes of reshaping the communities they inhabit. Whether it is a call to violence or a call for more inclusion, games are meant to be a reflective medium, not a prescriptive one. Gaming should reject this outside interference, not because of the merits of the ideas, but because they restrict the creativity and vitality of the medium. Plus, when gamers truly come together, whether it is to raise money for Medecins Sans Frontieres, as with Games Done Quick, or to change a game mechanic, good things typically result. How do we keep the activism and dynamic community that powers gaming, while rejecting overt attempts at subverting its creativity? How Gaming is Becoming Political - And What It Means for the Future of Video Games Because politics is so tribal, it can largely be rejected as a defining mechanism for gaming. Imagine a world wherein DOOM cannot exist because the community built around Wolfenstein 3D is so powerful or a world wherein you never hear about Dragon Quest because of the entrenched interests of the Final Fantasy cabal. This is what politics encourages and needs to thrive: Division, blind adherence, and rejection of any alternative. Video gaming is based on market principles which often posit that not only is there room for competition, but also that competition is a good thing. Politics, no matter what it espouses, does not believe competition is a glorious thing. There can be only one path, one way, one thought, one ideology. We don’t know about you, but if you can’t tell that that formula would result in some utter trash games then we don’t know how to help you. Perhaps gaming is less your thing and you should hit the streets in support of whatever cause you’ve taken up in this decade. How Gaming is Becoming Political - And What It Means for the Future of Video Games If you read that last line as sarcasm, then you read it correctly. This is because there is no place for politics in a market-driven industry. Whether you’re preaching in favor of an ethno-state, a communist utopia, or a world in which racism doesn’t exist, you have to make sure of one thing if you’re making a video game – it better sell. This is because, no matter how loud the vocal few may be, no one is going to buy some screed cast as a game. It has never worked and there are no examples of it out there. Calling Bioshock a call to arms for Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a shallow reading of that philosophy, just like seeing Star Trek as pushing communism is an equally sheltered reading. But what do these things have in common? Books, movies, and games are all interpretive. Sure, you make money off of them, but that doesn’t stop people from interpreting them. If we admonish devs to eschew political trends, how do we prevent gamers from drawing their own conclusions from the game? We can’t but we can set up a paradigm in which gamers are able to understand – and have deeper conversations about – the issues raised in games, whatever they may be. Have you ever wondered why literary people can have multiple interpretations of the same book? Or why movie critics don’t automatically thrash a film because they perceive it as being out of line with their worldview? To be sure, this happens, but in rare occasions. What often happens is that people have discussions about the work – debates if you will – and then, in the end, both parties realize that multiple interpretations can be drawn from it. This is why you can read a novel from a “feminist” view or apply a “Marxist” interpretation to it. The point is, any work, sufficiently fleshed out, is going to be open to interpretations unforeseen by the audience and the creators themselves. Video games are not immune to this and realizing that things can be viewed differently is the first step towards developing as a mature community. Again, keep the political poison out as much as possible. Political poison is not ideology, thoughts, or idea but literal advocacy for one group – a group with ideas that change, shift, and are not fixed. In other words, don’t build a house of interpretation on a foundation of sand like a political party. Have politicians ever been the friends of the artist, no matter what the artist thinks? Did Republicans stand up and reject the acclamations that video games are violent and lead to school shootings? Did Democrats push for more funding for video games because so many proffer a female or minority protagonist? No, both groups have regularly demonized and weaponized gamers against one another because politics is not driven by market principles, is uninterested in the truth, and doesn’t give a damn about the medium. That’s just the way it is. The problem with gaming communities is not that they exist, it is that they incorporate elements foreign to gaming and hope it works out. They’re amazed when EA doesn’t make SJW: The Quest for Identity or MAGA: The Truth Wars but they shouldn’t be because this stuff won’t sell. It’s that simple. Waiting around for a company to come to your side is a practice in tedium to the extreme. Hoping a video game will reflect your worldviews is childish in its most brazen expression. And expecting non-gamers, Republicans, Democrats, or otherwise, to give a damn about you or your games will lead to nothing but disappointment. Politics is instrumental in its approach and that is detrimental to the health of any gaming community.

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Kehl Bayern

Kehl Bayern is an author of cyberpunk novels, among others, and an avid gamer.

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