When politics and gaming tangle

Video games are not machine-like simulations. They're works, created by people and companies that embed them with elements of their worldview (as we shall see)..and it's important for us to unpack that.


Singapore: Let's talk games and politics.Many gamers don't like that combination. They're happy with videogames being escapist entertainment (which they're great at) or trifling distractions. But, like it or not, games are not machine-like simulations.

They're works, created by people and companies that embed them with elements of their worldview (as we shall see)..and it's important for us to unpack that.

Why? Because so many people play games these days that it's imperative to figure out how these things affect the way we think about the world.'Ideology' may be a strong word, but it's a cornerstone of the analysis of media..and we need to look at the 'ideology' or politics of video games.

It's also useful to make a distinction here between games that have political content in them and 'political video games' per-se, which have an ideological worldview embedded in them, whether intentionally or otherwise.

The first category includes just about every role playing game (Mass Effect, Fallout come to mind) and even first-person shooters that comment on (albeit with no sophistication) current geo-political flashpoints and conflicts. There's no escaping these.

This is not to say that games with political content are, therefore, apolitical in and of themselves...but our focus here is on underlying messages, if you will. Games that show us a worldview, and not tell us about them. The hidden transcripts.

There's more to Dungeon and Dragons than you'd like to see. NYT

So here's a working list. Do feel free to use this as a basis to add, modify, expand or savagely critique. I'll be the first to admit that this kind of simplistic pigeonholing does hurt more nuanced interpretations of the politics of games. But we live in a world where the (real or implied) political content in games is often overlooked and ignored ('It's just a game!', one frequently hears). So the beginnings of seeing videogames as possible vehicles for political expression and dissent can start, as many things do on the Internet, with a list:

Liberalism and Capitalism

Possibly the most well-represented political ideology in videogames. A good place to start is any of the 'Tycoon' business simulation games, where you can run anything from a Zoo to a farm in a sleepy village. The fundamental principle of profit as a conduit to a better life is constant across the titles.

The classic Transport Tycoon is one of the best known examples of trampling over the environment and economy of a virtual world for personal profit. Game designer Sid Meier's work often treads liberal-capitalist interpretations of history, as seen in Colonization or the more mainstream Civilization games.

If you're looking for more critical perspectives: play free online flash game Oiligarchy and the McDonald's Game for some hard-hitting satire, or Positech Games' 'Democracy' series for a complex look into decision making in liberal societies.

Conservatism

Veteran game designer Will Wright (of Simcity fame) is a well-known conservative. And it's fascinating how aspects of the conservative worldview seep into his designs.Everyone remembers fiddling around with Sim City, his famous city-building simulation. But how many remember just how impossible it was to build a functioning public transport system in that game? Or the game'' distaste for taxes and mixed-use zoning?

Marxism, Socialism and Communism

Shooters Bioshock and Bioshock 2 are warning pieces on the dangers of unfettered markets.The ambitious but flawed Republic: The Revolution looks at a fledgling post-soviet country undergoing economic transition.

Fascism

Ooh, a contentious one. Some have (legitimately) seen fascist ideologies in the glorified ultra-violence and male power fantasties of some mainstream games. For a tongue-in-cheek look at dictatorships and banana republics, the strategy game Tropico puts you in charge of your very own island.

Liberation: The Environment

For abstract paeans to the aesthetics of nature, play thatgamecompany's Flower. For a public-policy approach to our imminent doom, play Fate of the World.

Gender and Sexuality

The beautiful work of studios like Tale of Tales are much food for thought on issues of identity. The provocative work of radical game collective Molleindustria is more confrontational, but equally intriguing. Try Dierdra Kiai's The Play and the work of Christine Love for smaller, more intimate works. Read the Border House blog for some fantastic feminist and queer commentary on the industry.

Last year, in a sign of the changing times, MIT's Gambit videogame lab created a prototype games called A Closed World, which dealt with 'queer issues, something that's very uncommon in games right now'. The game is worth playing, but once you do, go and read developer Auntie Pixelante's strong critique of the game's approach to themes of abuse and oppression, and play her 'response' game: 'A Closed Mind'.


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