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Flash Games as Political Commentary 216

Posted by michael
from the subtlety-unnecessary dept.
Clive Thompson writes "All over the net, there are little shockwave games inspired by political events -- from the WTO-style New York Defender to War on Terrorism to even Downing Street Fighter (where British politicians beat each other senseless, Street-Fighter-Style). Sure, like most Shockwave-generated stuff, they may suck as games. But that's missing the point. What's happening here is nothing less than the emergence of the online video game as a form of social comment -- something you dash off in a couple of hours to make a sardonic political point about something. It's a new notepad for communication. Or at least, that's what I argued in this piece in Slate today. In addition to the craven self-promotion of sending it in to Slashdot, I'm interested in hearing what everyone thinks of this issue. After all, courts have recently been arguing that video games cannot be protected speech; these games make it patently obvious that this view is insane." The columnist missed a better example of the genre - the EFF's game of digital restrictions management.
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Flash Games as Political Commentary

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  • imniportant (Score:2, Funny)

    by avandesande (143899)
    geeks always think that what they are doing is more important and has more social relevance than it is. Where Katz when you need him?
    • I actually read the summary on the index page and thought to myself "I could have sworn I removed Katz articles from my main page."

      Actually though, a Katz article on the topic would have referenced some Columbine inspired flash game.
  • by CommieLib (468883) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:34AM (#4169694) Homepage
    and of our continuing infantilism that our political views are expressed through games?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No more infantile than expressing political views through cartoons which has been going on for centuries.
    • by daoine (123140) <moruadh1013@@@yahoo...com> on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:57AM (#4169850)
      It seems to be far more than political views, and I don't think it's infantile at all.

      I think it's very fair to say that these 'games' have grown directly out of political cartoons. In fact, it's quite easy to view them as interactive political cartoons. Just as the political cartoon overstated the nuances of reality, the games are pointing out a piece of the reality -- the only difference is that you get to play it.

      I think the most telling point is the end of the article -- it's not supposed to be a a good game. People are just taking advantage of the medium, as they did with cartoons.

      • People are just taking advantage of the medium, as they did with cartoons.

        You have a good point.

        If games with a message are infantile, then perhaps enjoyable [amazon.com] books [amazon.com] with a message suffer from the same complaint -- why aren't you reading a bland, straight political pamphlet if you want a "mature" medium?
    • Video games aren't infantile, modern politics are.
    • The classic "quick political comment" forum is the cartoon . . . is that "infantile" as well?

      It's humor. Politics are dry enough already.

    • How so? People have expressed political views through books, speeches, plays, TV programs, and virtually every medium available for as long as there have been meaningful political views and methods of expression. Games are a good way to foment interest in those who don't like to read thousand-page political treatises or who have become disenchanted with sound-byte Republicrat political posturers.

      Granted, Flash games are a little simplistic for such a purpose, as they are too small to contain much more than a sound-byte, but even a sound-byte conveyed in an interesting way may provoke thought. Witness comedy and political satire from books to TV.

      An expansive single-player game, however, can be just as thought-provoking as any metaphoric political novel. Try Deus Ex.
    • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Friday August 30, 2002 @10:19AM (#4170000) Homepage
      [Isn't a sign of the times...] and of our continuing infantilism that our political views are expressed through games?

      Oh, I don't know. I much prefer political views expressed through games than, say, political views expressed through Dick Cheney.

      On a bit of a tangent, I'm waiting in horror for the day when Cheney comes storming up to the podium, sweating like a pig, chanting and clapping:

      "in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! Say it with me!
      in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq! in-VADE-Iraq!
      Whoooooo!!!
      Yeahhh!!!"

    • Isn't a sign of the times... and of our continuing infantilism that our political views are expressed through games?

      No.

      It is no more infantile than scratching crude pictures on paper mocking politicians or political events.

      We call those political cartoons, and they are a venerated way of making exactly the same kinds of sardonic, and sometime crass, criticisms of public policies and public politicians. The flash games described here are exactly the same thing, printed in a new medium (the interactive internet as opposed to the passive, one-way old media).

      Games and programming in general are obviously speech deserving of "at least the same protections as the print media" to paraphrase the supreme court's opinion in their ruling which overturned the SCA. Things like this are invaluable in driving that point home in terms even non-tech savvy, but non-whored-out-to-the-media-cartels judges can understand. In other words, it won't sway Kaplan, but it will likely sway the supreme court, and it is there opinions which count.
    • about the sig..... it's OT but hey....

      A laugh or two at some American excess is one thing, but to portray America as malign is just the opposite of reality.

      Firstly, before I start, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying America is evil or anything. But I'd like to make a few points, America is hardly saintly either:

      • Guilty of hypocrisy over Iraq? Little known fact is that despite all the bitching from Washington about the lack of inspectors in Iraq etc, they don't allow UN inspectors into some American sites either - and we KNOW that America has weapons of mass destruction, so shouldn't they be monitored too?

      • Since Bush came to power, America has ripped up more international treaties and conventions, and ignored more UN conventions than the rest of the world combined in the last 20 years. Examples: kyoto is the biggie of course, but america also attempted to dismember many other international bodies [monbiot.com]

      • America is steadily isolating every single ally it has. Even the British government is seriously split on the issue. It apparently refuses to listen to anybody except big business, and has firsthand told the world that it will not do anything for the environment if that might mean harm comes to the American economy. They acknowledge the science and even agree with most of it (the rest of the world long ago agreed with all of it, but hey) - yet they still refuse to take action.

      • Bush preaches free trade as the means of saving the world. Yet he has imposed massive trade barriers to protect inefficient American industries.

      • The administration is prepared to invade another country pretty much without evidence, and without any political backing from anybody else at all. If the US can invade Iraq because Bush doesn't like Hussein, why is Iraq invading Kuwait bad?

      Evil? No. But where do you draw the line between deliberate damage through rampant self interest and evil anyway?

      Sorry, but had to get that off my chest. Politics is important, games or no. I'm not saying other countries are perfect either, far from it.

      Finally, political views are frequently expressed through comedy as well. Is that infantile?

      • Guilty of hypocrisy over Iraq? Little known fact is that despite all the bitching from Washington about the lack of inspectors in Iraq etc, they don't allow UN inspectors into some American sites either - and we KNOW that America has weapons of mass destruction, so shouldn't they be monitored too?
        We don't allow UN inspectors because we've not signed any treaties or agreed to any inspections from them. However, we allow Russian (and other) inspectors into just about all of our sites because we've signed several treaties with them: SALT I, SALT II, START, CWC (Chemical Warfare Convention), Open Skies Treaty, and more.

        Since Bush came to power, America has ripped up more international treaties and conventions, and ignored more UN conventions than the rest of the world combined in the last 20 years. Examples: kyoto is the biggie of course, but america also attempted to dismember many other international bodies
        It's the President's prerogative to enter into (and withdraw from) treaties. He did the right thing by pulling out of the Kyoto Accord, until there is conclusive proof, or a consensus among scientists that we are causing global warming. Besides, the International Criminal Court is a bad idea. Other proposed conventions (CEDAW [townhall.com]) are just plain ridiculous, almost as bad as nominating Libya to chair the UN Commission on Human Rights (see this [hrw.org]).

        America is steadily isolating every single ally it has. Even the British government is seriously split on the issue. It apparently refuses to listen to anybody except big business, and has firsthand told the world that it will not do anything for the environment if that might mean harm comes to the American economy. They acknowledge the science and even agree with most of it (the rest of the world long ago agreed with all of it, but hey) - yet they still refuse to take action.
        At the end of the day, our allies might disagree with us on some issues, but they'll still be our allies. They need us much more than we need them. Besides, if they don't have the courage to act when it's critical, it's better for us to act unilaterally, no matter what the connotation the media tries to pin to that word.

        Bush preaches free trade as the means of saving the world. Yet he has imposed massive trade barriers to protect inefficient American industries.
        I agree with you on this one. All subsidies should be abolished.

        The administration is prepared to invade another country pretty much without evidence, and without any political backing from anybody else at all. If the US can invade Iraq because Bush doesn't like Hussein, why is Iraq invading Kuwait bad?
        There's plenty of evidence to justify hostilities against Iraq: Saddam Hussein has been continually trying to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction, has demonstrated his willingness to use them (even against his own population), has routinely massacred the Kurd and Shiite minorities in Iraq, encouraged Palestinian suicide bombers by offering their families $25,000 rewards, and impoverished and starved his own people by not allowing arms inspectors dotheir job and by diverting money from the oil-for-food program to his own coffers.

        Britain will support us, look the stand Tony Blair is taking now, even while it's unpopular there. France is too busy violating the UN Security Council sanctions on Iraq (and Russia is planning to, to the tune of $40B) with lucrative business contracts to support another war in the region.

        Iraq invaded Kuwait based on fabricated lies, for the sole purpose of territorial expansion. Their mistake was believing the rest of the world would just stand idly by.
  • Watch those links (Score:5, Informative)

    by sandbenders (301132) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:36AM (#4169704) Homepage
    Ummm, I clicked the 'War on Terrorism' link- I might have gotten the game- I don't know because I restarted my machine to expedite the closing of about half a dozen adult site popups. Can we check these out before our friends who might be reading from work stumble into them? I know better than to click on a link in a post, but this was *in the article*.
    • May I suggest just blocking popups. Saves a lot of potental embarassment. It's easy to do, just pull down Edit->Preferences->Advanced->Scripts & Plugins in Mozilla and disable unrequested windows.
    • At least mine (clicks) were blocked from our proxy guardian!
    • (* I might have gotten the game- I don't know because I restarted my machine to expedite the closing of about half a dozen adult site popups. Can we check these out before our friends who might be reading from work stumble into them? *)

      It *is* a game. It is called "Attack of the Career-killing Popups". You just don't know how to shoot the attackers fast enough yet using the Gun Key, Alt-F4, and the final "Nuke Key", Alt-Ctrl-Delete.

      I got it down to 1.3 seconds now, almost faster than nosy-boss-eye speed.
    • If your browser doesn't block those things, then maybe it isn't really suitable for your needs? I suggest getting one that is.

    • Where do you work, man? I want a job where I can play loud video games at my desk, especially if pop-up ads aren't allowed in the workplace.
  • by garcia (6573) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:38AM (#4169719) Homepage
    I see most flash programming as a big cartoon. If people can make political statements in cartoons, how does making the "cartoon" interactive remove its rights for free speech?

    I think that law makers just don't like the fact that we can go around killing them w/lightning and nail guns.
    • Doesn't mean all are.

      Political cartoons are protected speech.
      Porn cartoons are not. Even if they in some way are political.

      Same way with games.

      Just because X item in the genere fits into catagory Y, doesn't mean the whole genere fits into catagory Y.
      • Huh? Porn cartoons aren't protected speech?

        I'd love to see a link explaining this; absent that, I've gotta call you on that one.
        • Indeed. I seem to recall a cartoon abou the "Clinton Memorial"

          It had statues of Bill and Monica, and showed a mother covering her child's eyes.
          • (* I seem to recall a cartoon about the "Clinton Memorial" *)

            Some of those Clinton cartoons were pretty funny, although I wouldn't want my kids to see them.

            One had the "Lincoln in Chair" statue, and right next to it the Clinton version: Clinton was sitting in a Lincoln-esque setting, but with a smerk and Monica nealing giving him a hot-dog hummer. (It did not show the hot-dog itself, but the activity was clear to any adult.)

            Another had Monica on the witness stand *sucking* the microphone, and the judge saying, "Monica, please, not so close to the mike!".

            I can imagine similar cartoons that border on porn. The courts have a hard time with such hybrids I imagine.
        • Miller v. California" (1973) - "In order to be considered to be obscene, the works in question have to depict or describe sexual conduct in a way that is patently offensive to local community standards and which is specifically prohibited in state law; and, taken as a whole, it has to appeal to a prurient interest in sex and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

          I should have added the adjective "obscene". Case in point though, for example a cartoon depicting a naked man prostrate on hands and knees with a dog going at him wildly from behind and a caption "MAN'S BEST FRIEND" *could* fall under this catagory.

          Note, I say, "could". The problem of course is that it's a very fuzzy criteria and can be argued either way. A lot of wheter somthing is premited under freespeech falls under state and local goverment jurisdiction.

          What could be gotten away with in one location, might not in another.

          Luckily we hardly ever have to deal with such cases because of editors. (And the pulp books that do contain the offensive imagary aren't readily accessable by those who would take offense at them... even if they were, the worse that could really happen is for the offensive material to be removed from the store it could be purchased in.)

          Anyrate, since we're talking about banned cartoons heres a good link for you: (not dealing with the US mind you.)
          http://www.oneworld.org/index_oc/Cartoon/ca rtoon.h tml
  • Because of it's bloated transfers, and awkward interface into existing browser structures. However, it recently occoured to me, that this is more because of the fact that Flash is integrated into existing browsers. HTTP really isn't designed for multiple, branched file downloads - 1 compressed file is much more suiting to it. How much better would flash be if it had it's own 'browser' which didn't rely on plugins to include content, and it's own 'http protocol', which cut out all the unneeded crap...
    • You mean like the Flash player?

      Flash movies can already request more data after they've started, they can use sockets and recieve streaming audio. The reason people tend to hate it is because it's so often abused with the "Skip intro" type rubbish. Since content is streamed down in a compressed binary format, and most competent designers uses vector graphics wherever possible, it's a far more efficient method for transferring data than HTML/XML/CSS pages.
  • Sure, they make games for political commentary. Using something originally intended for entertainment to send a political viewpoint was especially popular in communist Russia, where criticizing the government was forbidden -- so there was a case of a famous playwright (the name is escaping me), who made his plays social commentary hidden through clever metaphors. It was, of course, apparent to the audience what was going on, just like it is in these games.

    Surely, that does also show how our society continues catering to the lowest common denominator - instead of having an intelligent debate about something, we'll make a pretty game about it. The endless dumbing down of homo sapiens.

    /gleffler
    • Not to be contrary but -- aw, fsck it. I'll be contrary.

      Surely, that does also show how our society continues catering to the lowest common denominator - instead of having an intelligent debate about something, we'll make a pretty game about it. The endless dumbing down of homo sapiens.

      Putting that statement's mildly elitist slant -- that certain media are more entitled to express social commentary simply because they are held in a higher esteem -- to the side for the moment, there's a simple fact (well okay, generalization) that folks seem to be missing here:

      People express themselves with the tools they have access to and/or are most comfortable with.

      Which is to say, painters paint, writers write, orators drag soapboxes out to the park, manual laborers withhold their services, etc. Why should we be surprised when interactive producers do the same within their chosen medium?

      Were these games the *only* form of commentary taking place right now, I could understand your point. But given that I can walk down the street in a couple of weeks and catch over 50 different plays, songs, and other multimedia pieces [bravenewworldarts.com] in response to Sept. 11, it's probably safe to say that the other media are holding their own.

  • A good trend (Score:2, Interesting)

    by octalgirl (580949)
    After all, courts have recently been arguing that video games cannot be protected speech; these games make it patently obvious that this view is insane."

    I have been noticing this trend. There is a little Tinsel Town video on Eff.org that demonstrates this. I hope it continues to catch on so the courts will realize how foolish it is NOT to protect the artistic, educational, often useful (math blasters/diet programs/financial) and thought provoking programs ppl can come up with.
    • After all, courts have recently been arguing that video games cannot be protected speech; these games make it patently obvious that this view is insane.

      Alternatively, it could just be that these games are not really a form of social comment after all.
  • I think Xbill is a perfect example of the genre. I like to play it just after having to troubleshoot a windows 2000 machine. I have 35 linux machines and 4 windows 2000 machines on our network. 80% of my administration chores go to support those 4 machines. I'm not a full time admin, I'm a developer at this rate if we ditch the Win2k and go 100% linux, I could still support up to 100 machines part time. Xbill is my game!!!!!
  • The first I remember was Urban 75 [urban75.com]'s (Hi Mike!) slap-a-politician game in '97 (around the same time as their infamous slap-a-spice-girl). But in this [google.com] google post, Mike says he nicked the idea from a US site - anybody know what it was?
  • But that's missing the point. What's happening here is nothing less than the emergence of the online video game as a form of social comment -- something you dash off in a couple of hours to make a sardonic political point about something. It's a new notepad for communication.

    Whoa, settle down Katz, their just games ;P
  • Good Lord (Score:5, Funny)

    by El_Smack (267329) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:45AM (#4169764)

    Someone, somewhere has cloned Jon Katz.

  • From the article: These games aren't trying to get you hooked or make your thumbs sore. They're trying to make you think.

    I don't think the games are trying to make anyone think. I think they are a byproduct of tech guys feeling hatred at an enemy, and choosing to make games rather than pick up a gun and fight.

    It might be interesting to think about our culture as reflected in this trend, but thinking is (IMO) an unintended by-product.
    • Isn't that the point of any political medium?

      What's the difference between blind hatred and cold, calculating anger, if both produce political content, which in turn provokes thought?
  • ...the emergence of the online video game as a form of social comment...

    Does it mean that the next "killer app" (al least here in italy) will be "Hunt for the Corrupt Deputy" or (thinkin' about their side) "Escape from the Jail"??
  • I seem to recall a time a year or two back when the "in" thing was to have a flash "game" on your website called "PUNCH THE (fill in pop-culture target here)"- wether it was teh Spice girls, or the backstreet boys, or NYSNC* (yeah that's right!). So the current trend of Polititcally charged flash games are a riff on a riff!

    Regardless I think this is nothing new. Comedy works best when it takes a spin on reality (as a friend of mine said, its the gradient of a society)- yes its an oversimplification but thats its point. It elicits a view by reducing a topic down to a short soundbyte, forcing the audience to "reconcile" this oversimplification.

    It helps that these games are easy to create, much like a one strip cartoon. Since they are quick to make they can remain topical and quickly be "thrown away" a few weeks later.
  • Nothing new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IIRCAFAIKIANAL (572786) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:52AM (#4169816) Journal
    Many would argue that a lot of games have always been a form of social commentary - not just cheap flash ones. Most "art" is.

    Fallout, Civilization, Alpha Centauri, GTA, etc...

    (Disclaimer: Haven't read the article yet, this may be completely redundant - if it is, mod me to oblivion :)
    • The worst offender was Sim City. A couple of years ago on the evening news, I remember seeing that at least one teacher (middle school?) was using it to teach urban planning to his students. My understanding is that it has biases towards light rail, etc. Unless the kids are actually aware of all of the issues with mass transit, the game is useless, and if they aren't, it's only good for indoctrination.
    • Monopoly, chess, cops-n-robbers, ring-around-the-rosie.
  • by Chagatai (524580) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:53AM (#4169825) Homepage
    that has grabbed my attention is Dance Dance Karnov [somethingawful.com]. This game has changed the way I think about fat, naked, Russian, ex-carnival persons in our society. For example, what is the impetus of having large sweaty men wear tassles on their nipples? How would the size of a mutant Godzilla-fish thing impact the stock market? This requires further analysis.

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Friday August 30, 2002 @09:54AM (#4169830)
    "WTO-style New York Defender"

    And here I was hoping I got to run around in riot gear beating tree-hugging hippies senseless... I call false advertising on this one!
  • I can't believe slashdot has become a forum for those in the know, and with connections, to shamelessly plug their articles and websites. Blech!
  • Do not click on that second link if your at work. Especially if your boss is near. One word..... "ITPOPSUPAPORNWINDOW"
  • Based on flash/shockwave....
    Elian Deportation [timetrip.net]
  • How exactly are these games political commentary?

    Having a silly shoot-'em-up where you shoot "evil terrorists" isn't a commentary at all. Commentary points things out. Commentary presents a view. Commentary is intended to make people think.

    These games do not have the subtlety of a good political cartoon. Hell, even a bad political cartoon (such as you might see in USA Today *shudder*) makes more of a statement than "I wanna beat up Bin Laden".

    The best example of a political cartoon in Flash form are the "Napster Bad!" line of cartoons [campchaos.com] on Camp Chaos. The one with Sheryl Crow and Nutty McShithead ("MP3s: Good or Goblin") is hilarious.

  • Slashdot, subdivision of VA Software, no longer content to "slashdot" cheap html+jpg websites, changed their business model. Now they crash heavily loaded flash sites.

    CEO Rob Malda commented : "yes, with the diminishing eployment, less techies have less occasions to waist [sic] corporate time on websurfing so banner income stagnated. So we had to cut costs and involve much simpler slashdottings"
  • Analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orne (144925) on Friday August 30, 2002 @10:02AM (#4169877) Homepage

    Printing Press
    is to Newspaper as Flash SDK is to Flash Program
    In my humble opinion, it's just another method of providing content to a viewer. Not everything printed in on paper is protected speach, just as not everything found on the internet is protected.

    Suppose I make a game where the goal is to go around shooting politicians; its just as poor taste if I decided to print "paper dolls" of the pol's along with text encouraging you to cut them into pieces. What is the point that you are trying to make in either case?

    But, suppose I wrote a game called "Fur Fighters" where the object is to throw cans of paint on people wearing furs? Thats much more aligned with a political message...

    In short, its not the delivery medium that matters, it all comes down to the value of the content.
  • In response to yesterday's michael bashing, I'd like to point out that the eff DRM game was quite interesting and a good inclusion.

    How did you score?

    karma whore by design.
  • According to the US Supreme Court they can selectivly restrict *any* speech as they see fit.

    This makes the first admendment, and perhaps the whole constitution null and void.

    At the least its being violated right and left by our so-called leaders. And the public is FOR this.

    Dont you people see it ? When will you finally get sick of it all and say NO.. Its time to stand up and stop this before its too late..
  • thanks for the porno link. I'm at work and I clicked on the war on terrorism link and got a couple porno popups. Thanks slashdot.
    • So basically you're at work not doing work. Is your employee aware of this? Don't blame slashdot when you're standing in the unemployment line, slacker.
  • is here. [kimble.org]

    Friend of mine pointed me to this one a while back... There's 2 more in the series, but this is my favourite.

  • I wrote... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tuxedo-steve (33545) on Friday August 30, 2002 @10:15AM (#4169979)
    ... a little game as a protest (of sorts) against the Australian government's policy on, uh, unsolicited refugee landings. For what it's worth (which isn't much, given my game design skills), it can be found here [pacific.net.au].

    Who says code isn't speech?
  • by pubjames (468013) on Friday August 30, 2002 @10:20AM (#4170007)
    This is an example of what I think of as "Wired journalism". Everything is new, exciting, revolutionary. No historical perspective is given - there is no historic continuum, everything is a new. Of course in the real world very few things are a revolution, things change slowly, most ideas have been around for centuries but every new generation thinks it's got all the good ideas.

    Where is the wise analysis from journalists with a historical perspective and knowledge outside their tiny specialisms? I'm getting bored of all this sensationalist stuff.
  • I had an idea for a game in the style of missile command where you control the multi-billion dollar missile defence shield. After beginning the game, a small turbaned dude enters from the side, places a suitcase down in between your skyscapers then runs for it. Furious button clicking does nothing as you can only shoot upwards.


  • Yes. And all the one I've seen are puerile rubbish. Good political satire is intelligent and thought provoking. A site where you click your mouse button to throw bananas at Dubya or some such is neither.
  • Just because some video games are freespeech, doesn't mean all are.

    Yes, it's an interesting phenomena in our culture, but it isn't evidence that all video games *are* protected free speech.

    Some pictures are considered art, and thus freespeech, but pictures themself aren't freespeech.

    Likewise, some video-games can be considered poltical statments, but video games themself aren't freespeech.
  • Just to help keep this clear, because some people *still* don't get it...

    Flash is Flash. Just Flash, that's it. The most recent version of the authoring tool is Flash MX and the most recent version of the plugin is Flash 6.

    Shockwave is the 'net export version of an app made with Director - an entirely different product.

    Shockwave games/files as a whole tend to be larger and more bloated than Flash movies because Flash is vector based rather than raster based like Director.

    Flash movies aren't automatically big/slow/ugly - it all depends on the skill of the developer. Most of the Flash stuff that I do comes in at under 40k.
  • Computer games with social commentary are hardly new. I remember U.K. games for ZX Spectrum computer from the 80s. One of them, MONTY MOLE was about a miner mole and contained unflattering lyrics about Mrs. Thatcher and the British miners' strike. I also remember beat-em-up starring current (at the time) political figures (Mrs. Thatcher, Gorbachev, Pope, Ghaddafi...) and a game called FLUNKY where you played the butler for the British royal family whose members were portrayed as a very unflattering caricatures. There were probably much more, after all it was 20 years ago...

    By the way, all of these were professional, commercially sold games!

  • ...since the discussion has gone as it was easily predicted to (a thread of "Check this game!!).
    Here's my entry into the list The Romp. [romp.com]
  • Over the past few months /. has posted a couple of stories about the Indy Game Jam. The concept seemed interesting, so I went and checked out the page [indiegamejam.com].

    As one might expect, the games were reasonably simplistic, though on the whole surprisingly fun. The one that really stood out to me most was "Very Serious RoboDOOM".

    This game isn't really a game. It has gameplay, but that's not what it's about. Really, it's a commentary on the state of the gaming industry. Go check it out, they talk about it a bit at the site.

    My reaction to this was basically "Fuckin' A right on!" It's troubled me for ages that video games don't seem to be living up to their potential as a medium. The interactive element of gaming can be used for much more than just entertainment - by involving the "audience" and forcing their complicity in the action presented, games can make powerful statements in ways that have never been possible before. RoboDOOM is a great example of this, as are a couple of the games mentioned in the article (the ones by the French designers seem particularly inspired).

    But the real problem isn't just the design of games, it is how gaming is percieved as a whole. Even here on Slashdot, where there is a more than healthy hardcore gaming audience, games seem to be considered trivial - entertainment, nothing more. Look at the other comments on this story! The truth is, gaming (as a medium) is still in its infant state, like so many media before it. Television, radio, cinema, comics, all were seen as means of simple amusement. All took decades to mature into the artforms they (sometimes) are today. The earliest examples, the earliest signs of the potential these media held were only recognized by a very few. It saddens me to see that the few who should be recognizing the beginnings of gaming's growth spurt are so seemingly oblivious.

    Maybe this isn't a major new development on the political commentary scene - honestly, I don't think it is myself. But it is a major step in the development of gaming. And, for sure, that is something worth noting.

  • ..but I think they require the Flash plugin. It's like a gateway drug, first you play some stupid Flash game, next thing you know you're staring stupidly at Flash advertisements. Ohh Look! Shiny things!

    Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Mark Fiore (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ian Peon (232360) <(ian) (at) (epperson.com)> on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:09AM (#4170330)
    Been noticing that over at SF Gate [sfgate.com] with Mark Fiore's [sfgate.com] stuff. Heavy handed political cartoonist whose pieces are often presented in a flash game format.
  • I thought games weren't speech at all! [salon.com]

    If games aren't speech, then there is no reason these "interative political cartoons" can't be censored.

    And heck, why not censor political cartoons altogether? I mean, it's common sense that all cartoons are meant for children, right? Comic books [icv2.com] too, since they're practially the same thing.

    From there it's a short step to books, music, video, and anything else these pesky consumers invent.

    And no, you can not ride the slippery slope when I'm done with it. :-P
  • Please don't let your cynicism cloud your judgement on this one. Yes, there is an underlying thread of political commentary in many of these flash games. It's not overanalysis.

    The point, as someone already mentioned [slashdot.org], is that a medium, any medium, is just a means of achieving a goal.

    It reminds me of people arguing whether games or comics can be "art". It's a silly question; any medium can be "art" if you make art with it. Likewise, there's nothing outlandish about flash games that entertain while offering political commentary.
  • Here's another good example of political commentary ala Flash. This one is about gaming community politics (before watching, know that the UT2003 demo has been due out in "two more weeks" for several weeks now):

    http://www.planetunreal.com/features/ut2003flash /

    This was made by Fragmaster, who is quite possibly the only entertaining figure left in the gaming community.
  • by roystgnr (4015) <roystgnr@nOspAm.ticam.utexas.edu> on Friday August 30, 2002 @12:32PM (#4171107) Homepage
    There are games out there that slip a little social thought into the plotline; Deus Ex's prescient consideration of "How much will people tolerate in the name of fighting terrorism?" is the first thing that comes to my mind.

    But what is the political commentary of "New York Defender" and "War on Terrorism" supposed to be? "Terrorism bad!"? "We need a system of powerful anti-aircraft lasers mounted outside all major cities!"? "Man, it'll be great to beat the crap out of bin Laden!"?
  • by interstellar_donkey (200782) <pathighgate&hotmail,com> on Friday August 30, 2002 @01:13PM (#4171539) Homepage Journal
    Using crude artwork to express a political concern or viewpoint has been going on for hundreds of years. They were originally called 'editorial cartoons'. While today's updated version adds sounds and interactivity, the purpose and message are the same.

    What we have here is an author that seems to have graduated from the John Katz school of technology journalism; Lets make a big deal about some 'gee wiz' new technology that translates something that's been done for ages into the digital world, but lets forget to mention it's been done for ages.

    The revolutionary aspect of politically motivated video games is really a non-issue. The revolutionary aspect is in that anyone who does it can get it distributed easily. The author sort of missed the point on this too. From the article:

    This material would have been unheard of a few years back, when only corporations could afford to code video games

    Not so. I was coding video games back in the 80s on my old Apple //e. They were crude, and in retrospect, not very fun, but I was hardly a big corporation, but they were, indeed, games. The difference is, when I finished the only method of distribution I had was swapping floppy disks the next day on the playground with a handful of my nerdy friends.

    A crudely produced political video game is just as easily to make by the common man as a crudely drawn etching of a political cartoon was to produce 150 years ago. The types of messages aren't different, but today the common man can get his or her work viewed by thousands, if not millions of people with little or no cost.

    And here is where the author misses the boat! It doesn't matter if they are political video games, self published manifestos, communities based on a common interest... These are all nothing new. What's new is the way these publications can be created and distributed by the common man with no corporation behind him or her.

    It would be as if somebody wrote an article about websites like Slashdot and said 'Gee wiz! Look, today people can now make critical comments or discuss magazine articles', forgetting to mention that nearly every magazine prior to the Internet had a page for feedback and reader mail, and that the articles were discussed around the dinner table. The only real difference is now I can write this in 5 minutes, post it, and it will be scanned over by thousands, perhaps even read by 50 or 60 people. Now THAT'S the revolution I like and wish were looked at by writers more thoughtful and critical then myself.
  • What the hell? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kraegar (565221) on Friday August 30, 2002 @01:34PM (#4171763)
    What the hell is up with /. lately?

    A direct link to a program that will crash a windows box.

    A story about how to illegally make your own cisco box using warez.

    Links inside a story that have PORN POP UP ADDS.

    The days of my reading slashdot while at work are numbered. Are you intentionally trying to drive away your reader base? Is news just that slow?

    Admitted, slashdot is not the greatest news source out there, but occasionally you can find a gem or two amongst the articles... but with crap like this, it's not worth it.

  • Personally, I prefer the withering critique of modern adolescence of High School of the Apes [newgrounds.com] and Hentai- Sim Girl.

    Hopefully, the appeal of such enlightening games as these will continue to grow.

  • by _ph1ux_ (216706)
    Well I dont know about politcal flash games, but this one [seethru.co.uk] is a hell of a lot of fun. We usually do it while drinking and see who can get the highest score - the more buzzed you get, the more difficult it is to avoid the obsticles.

    This game is very simplistic - yet very fun.

    Also another fun diversion is this one, called ant arena (at bottom of page) [seethru.co.uk]
  • I had to look twice. I cannot believe this is not an article by JonKatz. The medium is not speech. The content may be. The content may not be. It absurd to argue that all computer games are protected speech. Some may be, although I haven't seen anything the rises to that level.

    As for things we should be getting hot and bothered about, I don't think (here in the USA) that the worry is about government limiting speech. Rather we should be worried about the increasing consolidation of handful of media companies controlling the production and distribution of "speech."

    No free speech law prevents any private party from refusing to publish, print, or broadcast anything they don;t want to publish, print, or broadcast. Censorship is legal provided it is a private party doing it. Now what are we worried about, again?
  • How about a suicide bomber [albinoblacksheep.com] game?
  • by securitas (411694) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @12:45AM (#4175284) Homepage Journal

    [NOTE: posted on behalf of another Slashdotter who fears professional repercussions]

    In addition to the craven self-promotion of sending it in to Slashdot, I'm interested in hearing what everyone thinks of this issue.

    Ah, yes. Craven self-promotion and karma-whoring wrapped neatly in a mock self-deprecating tone designed to defuse any criticism. Classic Clive.

    What you forgot to mention was WHY you are interested in hearing what everyone thinks of this issue.

    For those who are unfamiliar with the esteemed Mr. Thompson's work, he seems to have a history of strip-mining the ideas of people he meets to fuel his lecture-circuit, TV appearances and column-fodder. Those people instantly become his so-called 'friends'. That wouldn't be quite so bad if one could be sure that there was any consistency in attributing those ideas to their respective sources instead of conveniently presenting them (uncredited) as pearls of wisdom from the Oracle of Clive.

    [Ed.] The columnist missed a better example of the genre - the EFF's game of digital restrictions management.

    Those familiar with Thompson's work already know that he has a history of frequently missing all kinds of things that are evident to people who actually try to be diligent about researching the stories they write.

    If the criticism sounds harsh (to some degree) it's meant to. After observing him for some years, he's not quite as bad as some of his pseudo-intellectual contemporaries because his work sometimes rises to the level of being competent. But being damned with faint praise such as that is hardly cause for joy.

    Clive, the last thing the world needs right now is yet another self-annointed technology pundit.

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