Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Games Politics

How Video Games Reflect Ideology 244

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-level-80-priest-provides-universal-health-care dept.
A recent article at Bitmob sought to tackle the question of whether games could carry political meaning, arguing the negative since "The money, the media representation, and the general shadow of 'triviality' will always trail the word 'game,' because that is what makes it open to all markets." An opposing viewpoint has been posted by Lee Bradley, who says, "Perhaps the most profound shift in the games industry in the last few years has been the explosion of co-op. Not only are developers dedicating more and more time to providing co-op experiences in their games, they are also finding new ways of exploring the dynamic within it. ... Even in games where the co-operative element of co-op is less pronounced, the ideology is the same; you are not on your own anymore, you are part of a team. What's more, that team is more than likely multi-cultural and/or multi-gender. ... Now, this isn't to say that the lone white-guy hero has been eradicated. Far from it; the bald, white space-marine is one of the most over-used characters in modern gaming. But it increasingly rare that they are lone heroes. A shift towards team-based, co-op featured games is undeniable. In this way, mainstream video games, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political. While for the most part they are not designed to tackle political issues head-on, or carry overt political messages, they do reflect the values and the popular ideology of the culture in which they were created."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Video Games Reflect Ideology

Comments Filter:
  • by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:01AM (#29668043)

    We play games to take a break from reality, and not to think about the same shit as everywhere else.

  • Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:07AM (#29668059)

    Far from it; the bald, white space-marine is one of the most over-used characters in modern gaming. But it increasingly rare that they are lone heroes. A shift towards team-based, co-op featured games is undeniable. In this way, mainstream video games, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political.

    No, they're not "political". You can interpret Mozart's Fifth to be racist, but that doesn't mean he wrote it that way. If you keep looking for racism everywhere, you are racist: everyone else doesn't think about it all the time.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:34AM (#29668199)
    Subliminal? I could understand if there were occasional references to a death camp, or the occasional shout of "Schutzstaffel!" in the distance, but every single surface (in the first 4 levels i've played since buying it yesterday) have some reference to the Nazi party somewhere; A Swastika, a Reichsadler (Empire Eagle), a poster of Hitler...

    That's not subliminal, that's "WE WON, BITCH. NAZIS ARE YOUR ENEMY!"
  • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:58AM (#29668319) Homepage

    Here's one thing I've noticed: When I started playing video games in 1980s, the experience was pretty disappointing. Why? The games could have been so much better but the technology just wasn't that good. In the latter half of 1990s, things changed: we got 3D, we got the Internet, we got the processing power and storage capacity. Nowadays, I have zero technological complaints. I can fire up, say, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and say "goddamn it, this is what I wanted as a kid - and so much more - and now I have it".

    I'd argue that the same thing is happening with social interaction. Playing is a form of social activity. Duh. We've always wanted social games. Even in my Commodore 64 days, games were always much more fun when I had friends playing games with me - coop just wasn't always that fun because if you were lucky there were some good 2P games. That got slightly better in NES era, but not much. Later Nintendo thought "well, let's put in four controller ports. Everyone wants that." And social games have just got a whole lot better with the Internet. So, once again, it's technology growing to meet the demands of the game designers.

    Here in Finland, a computer magazine published an April Fools story about an advanced multiplayer Elite clone in 1989 (I think), and the writers were surprised because no one noticed it was an April Fools story. People really thought it would have been incredibly amazing gameplay-wise and technologically plausible if your computer could make a dial-up connection to your friend's computer when you're flying in the same sector of space. And nowadays we have EVE Online. See? Technology catching up with peoples' dreams and expectations.

  • Re:Racism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:02AM (#29668337)

    The author was clearly talking about increasing diversity in games and how the standard space-marine character pushes against that

    Why do we need diversity anyway? Does it matter if you're playing a white space marine who shoots aliens or a black space marine who shoots aliens? Next up: chess is racist, because while you can play either white or black, there is no Native American side.

  • Re:Racism (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cr_nucleus (518205) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:02AM (#29668339)

    Far from it; the bald, white space-marine is one of the most over-used characters in modern gaming. But it increasingly rare that they are lone heroes. A shift towards team-based, co-op featured games is undeniable. In this way, mainstream video games, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political.

    No, they're not "political". You can interpret Mozart's Fifth to be racist, but that doesn't mean he wrote it that way. If you keep looking for racism everywhere, you are racist: everyone else doesn't think about it all the time.

    I believe you're the mistaken one. As adequately put by Virginie Despentes [wikipedia.org] in her book King Kong Theorie [wikipedia.org], some ideas are so ingrained in our own culture that we end up failing to even see them in action. The most interesting part is that you accept those ideas even if they are detrimental to yourself just because "it's the way things go".

    You can also think about The Matrix, ie. when you're part of a system you easily become blind to its limitations and can even come to defend them (becoming an agent).

    To get back to your point, what i mean is it would be ok to acknowledge an portrayed idea, or some kind of interpretation of a piece, but not adhere to it. On the contrary, dismissing the idea as non existent or something like that does not reflect a better or more elaborate point of view.

    More simply put, not seeing is bad, seeing but not caring is somewhat better.

  • by nacho_dh (972780) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:03AM (#29668341)

    Everything we do has an ideological/political/philosophical charge on it, not only in the interpretation but in the creation process itself; and videogames are definetly not the exception. You don't have to go to Wolfstein or Rise Of The Triad to check that.

    We fight for freedom and justice in COD4 today as Rambo did in the 80's, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. As Nikita Khrushchev once said, the press is our chief ideological weapon, and if you think videogames are not press, then you're 20 years behind.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:06AM (#29668359)
    Games are international so must appeal to the broadest market. That leaves no room for trivia such as party politics from any one particular country.
  • by MeisterVT (1309831) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:10AM (#29668397)
    Causing games to be more social also helps sell DLC. If your bud buys those extra maps or levels, now you are more compelled to do the same, otherwise there is no more co-op for you. It is all about being able to sell more. While religion, politics, or anything else may be tackled in games, it is not to force a point, it is to create a world/scenario that can be relevant to the player. Why? So they play it more, recommend it to friends and buy the requisite expansions. Again, all about the money.
  • by ph0rk (118461) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:51AM (#29668659)
    It may not be realistic, but it is often fun.

    You know, the -other- reason to play games.
  • Re:Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cvd6262 (180823) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:07AM (#29668779)

    The author was clearly talking about increasing diversity in games and how the standard space-marine character pushes against that

    Why do we need diversity anyway? Does it matter if you're playing a white space marine who shoots aliens or a black space marine who shoots aliens? Next up: chess is racist, because while you can play either white or black, there is no Native American side.

    Which color goes first in chess? I'm just sayin'.

  • actually (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:08AM (#29668783) Homepage
    Far from it; the bald, white space-marine is one of the most over-used characters in modern gaming. But it increasingly rare that they are lone heroes.

    Actually, for certain genres (I'm thinking traditional adventure, and 3-d platform), the beautiful young white female is the most over-used character.
  • Re:what about...? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:15AM (#29668837)

    Have to agree. The game that comes to my mind is 'The Sims'. It is a wonderful (and becoming slightly creepy now to me) snapshot of Western life at the beginning of the 21st century. Home ownership and 'remodeling', day job, salary, consumerism, technology as recreation - an interesting snapshot of a lifestyle that may not have a long-term future.

  • by aeroelastic (840614) <aeroelastic@gm a i l . c om> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:18AM (#29668865)
    Wow, I don't know where the author is going with this. He starts out saying, "I'm not so concerned about whether video games can deliver such a [political] narrative." Later he says, "Ultimately, games will never be able to carry a political message". Then in the comments he says, "I certainly do believe games can carry a strong political message".

    And then when someone brings up MGS and GTA he says, "Regarding the narrative in MGS and GTA, I think both franchises earned the right to be autonomous." If anyone can figure out what this guy is trying to say, please let me know.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:29AM (#29668969)

    So Lee Bradley says:

    ...mainstream video games, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political.

    OK. I understand that people feel that way. But the people that feel that "the way things are" is pretty much always "implicitly political" are the people who find political meaning in Every. Fucking. Thing.

    To some people, the color of shirt you put on in the morning is political. The toothpaste you use is political. Everything is political because somewhere, somehow, sometime during the creation of that thing or state of being some person or entity involved had some political leaning that in some subtle way influenced the way they contributed to the process.

    People who think like this believe the way I take a dump is political. (Seriously - find somebody who's gone off-grid and uses a composting toilet. Ask them about it. They'd have you believe that the way you urinate and defecate is a political statement.)

    I don't buy it.

    "Politics is a component of everything" may be true but it's also meaningless. Any statement so broad is meaningless because it has no real, practical impact on anything.

    Folks who think like this need to take a big dose of practical pills. There's a political slant to every issue but that doesn't mean it's worthy of note. I suspect games change based on technology and human desires. We want distraction. We want to interact with others. Technology now enables that and some people have figured out how to make a buck meeting those needs by putting out games with a heightened co-op element. Big frikkin deal. Unless you can't win a game without calling your congressmen and demanding action on a bill currently before the House (or some such other real-world, practical political action) then a game isn't political.

    It's just a game.

  • Re:Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrostDust (1009075) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:37AM (#29669049)

    Why do we need diversity anyway? Does it matter if you're playing a white space marine who shoots aliens or a black space marine who shoots aliens?

    It doesn't matter to the mechanics or plot of the game, but it matters to the potential audience. If you believe the character is similar to you, its easier to imagine yourself in that role.

    One of the smartest things they did with Halo was defining your character as simply a space Marine; he could be of any age, race, religious belief, and so on, that the player wanted.

  • Re:Racism (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:49AM (#29669189)

    Your talking like it's a abstract game (which chess is). While the story of many a computer game may be so flimsy that the game almost counts as abstract, those things you shoot often are supposed to be people. When you include people and a story then you're reflecting reality. How you reflect reality depends on how you want your audience to feel. If your audience couldn't give a rat's ass about the characters in the game then your assertion that it doesn't matter what they look like holds. On the other hand, if you want black people to feel involved in the game, you may think that giving them the chance to play the game as a black character will achieve this. You may be wrong.

    It's basically the same thing as movies. Usually there's a white male lead with a black male supporting character. This is because, while the majority of the audience is white, black people still account for a significant proportion of the film's income. Is this a political statement? Hell no. Does it "reflect an ideology"? Of course not. It just reflects what the audience wants. It isn't political correctness gone mad. It isn't part of a deliberate effort to make America more integrated. It's just business.

    When games have characters whose depth goes beyond their hair style, skin colour becomes much less important. It's because the bald space marine is such a tedious cliché that people start thinking about his race.

  • Re:Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amplt1337 (707922) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:14AM (#29669501) Journal

    Well, consider the male-female bias in protagonists.
    When minority (or underrepresented, women are actually a slight majority of the US population) groups are never reflected in gaming worlds (or in novels, or movies, etc.), they are being sent a message that this genre of entertainment is completely unconcerned with them, and as a result, they tune out. This narrows the focus of game development, as marketers perceive that they're only selling to the main (overrepresented) group, and that puts a big squeeze on the types of games that get developed, as the industry becomes increasingly devoted to whatever interests white fourteen-year-old boys.

    That's not to say that women don't like Halo, but the narrower the market, the more marginalized its participants and the more narrow the range of products offered for the market. Having nonmale, nonwhite gamers increases the range of games available, which gives you more variety in what you can choose to play.

  • I play games to zone out too, but even I would have to admit that the strong environmental message of Final Fantasy VII or the anti-nuclear message of Metal Gear Solid did come across clearly to me at the time and I still remember them over ten years later. I have play many games since which contained a variety of messages on a wide array of topics, philosophical, contemporary and otherwise. Video games were essentially the only mass medium that ever seriously discussed the growing influence of PMCs and corporate militias during the 2004-2008 period. Even a bubble-gum entertainment game like GTA4 carried biting political satire on its radio stations.

    Lots of people love to sneer at video games and dismiss them as children's toys, devoid of artistic or intellectual content. Most of those same people will happily regard a Hollywood bubblegum blockbuster as the apex of human entertainment and will trawl over it endlessly for months. I for one do not see how the worlds, setting and characters created in video games differ so greatly from those seen in other forms of fiction, nor why they should be dismissed so easily as intellectually void.

    I play video games as a pasttime to escape from the world. But I inevitably find myself exposed to philosophies and dilemmas of interest and of some relevance to the real world. I happen to think that playing video games is a far more broadening experience than many give it credit for.

  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:28AM (#29669665)
    Any creative work beyond the most utilitarian (and sometimes even those) reflects the surrounding culture, technology level, and aesthetic sense. Archaeologists trace the spread of ideas through civilizations through things like jewelry or decorations on pottery. Do they depict people? animals? animals that aren't native and that they must have heard about from travelers? Are the depictions realistic, or stylized, or clearly fantastic? How complex is the piece, and what does it say about the tools necessary for its creation? Does it imply a stable workshop full of tools and equipment?

    It's harder to see exactly what the supporting technology can do if it's not part of what you're looking at. Earlier video games on earlier technology were hard pressed to display a single player and a single opponent, so team operations were out of the question. AI-driven team members appeared as the game systems supported them, and live interaction once the underlying network was up to speed (anybody remember the lag on 1200 baud modems?).

    Sometimes you don't even realize the significance of items in artwork until it's pointed out. I thought product placement was relatively new, since the movie era, until I took a tour of Renaissance paintings explaining details like which figures in each painting are the paying customer, or members of his family, or the artist, or someone's mistress (or all of the above). And then comes the political part that we don't see today: In a painting purporting to be a religious figure, who was the model? Is the "sacred virgin" really a picture of a courtesan? And was she known to other people in the circle that would be viewing it?

    People like playing on teams, and always have.. The culture supports it. The technology supports it. That's why it's happening more.
  • by cHALiTO (101461) <.elchalo. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:39AM (#29669785) Homepage

    Everything we do has an ideological/political/philosophical charge on it, not only in the interpretation but in the creation process itself; and videogames are definetly not the exception. You don't have to go to Wolfstein or Rise Of The Triad to check that.

    I can't believe I had to get down this far into the comments to find a post like this. Games are designed and create by people, and all people have ideological and political viewpoints that one way or another permeate what they do. Sometimes it's evident, sometimes not. Sometimes it's intended and explicit, and that's ok. Games, especially if we think of them as an art form, are just as valid as movies or writing to express opinion of any kind, and that can also make the plot richer. Just because there's opinion it doesn't mean it's 'Propaganda' (as many people here like to label everything that doesn't conform to their POV).
    Politically and ideologically I didn't like some things in CoD4, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the game immensely.

  • by vga_init (589198) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:53AM (#29669941) Journal

    The article is not nearly as good as I would have hoped. I do agree that there is some political ideology and cultural values to be found in many games, but just to make a general statement that most games being single player shows political ideology is absurd. I'll have you know that it is significantly easier to program a single player game than any other kind, so there were more (especially on limited hardware). Multiplayer didn't become such a huge trend until the Internet caught on, which parallels technological changes more than it does political changes.

  • Re:Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:06AM (#29670117) Journal

    If you believe the character is similar to you, its easier to imagine yourself in that role.

    If that were the case, most video game heroes would be pasty faced lard asses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:44PM (#29671403)

    If you're a sociologist or political activist, yes, these everyday choices may have relevant political context. That it seems mundane and impractical to you means that you have not studied the relevant issues. A tacit acceptance of the invisible norms that get you through your day does not mean that they do not, especially in the aggregate with the population as a whole, carry profound consequences. There are an infinity of other options, but that these do not even cross your mind is the result of large-scale cultural and political trends/decisions that push you into the normalized behavior for your peer reference group.

    Yes, human behavior, because of its social ramifications, is by its nature political. Whether analyzing the questions this poses is meaningful to you is something else entirely.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @04:01PM (#29673771)

    When I look at Balrog in StreetFighter, and the black man in the Final Fantasies games, I see a game just portraying Black men as big dumb idiots who use profanity all the time. Since that is the same shit I have to watch on TV, it would be nice if I could play a video game and get something different, but it's no different.

    You have to remember though, those games were developed in Japan. It isn't a diverse country in the least, black people are a rarity. In Street Fighter -everything- is stereotypical. In Final Fantasy, there really -aren't- any non-white characters other than a few. I have little doubt it was due to pressure (in the US) to make the games more "diverse" that non-white characters were added, however, since the games were developed in Japan, stereotypes were used.

    It is my understanding, in Germany, it is illegal to display certain symbols because they are considered anti-Jewish. If a video game were an escape from reality, that symbol could be displayed in video games, but that is not the case.

    Well, Germany has many censorship issues blocking true free speech, but that is beside the point. In real life, chances are none of us /.ers could have fought in WWII, video games let experience it. Other games let you do things that you can't do in real life without serious consequences (fly a plane, steal cars, drive tanks, etc). Similar to while some books are pure fantasy others take place in realistic historical situations, others use a fictional version of reality, and still others let you experience life as a different person. All are escapes from reality but may use realistic situations to experience life that you are unable to experience. All but the most mundane book gives you something different than your life.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:03PM (#29675741)

    So Lee Bradley says:

    ...mainstream video games, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political.

    To some people, the color of shirt you put on in the morning is political. The toothpaste you use is political. Everything is political because somewhere, somehow, sometime during the creation of that thing or state of being some person or entity involved had some political leaning that in some subtle way influenced the way they contributed to the process.

    Disavowing the political dimension to your activity is political too, of course - if something isn't political, that means it is beyond contest. It's fixed, can't be changed, don't bother trying.

    I think in some ways the problem is 'political' is understood in terms of hostile camps, parties and power, when in fact it's about ethical decision. Everything you do is a choice, and you should accept responsibility and accountability for that - meaning it is open to contest by other people who can call you out.

    There's no good reason this shouldn't apply to things you do unconsciously or unreflexively too, because people should be judged by their actions. I suppose the basic postulate is "every action is a decision".

    So, when 'just a game' is programmed as escapist fun, a fantasy separate from reality, we need to ask - why did you decide on THAT fantasy?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:10AM (#29679097)

    OK. I understand that people feel that way. But the people that feel that "the way things are" is pretty much always "implicitly political" are the people who find political meaning in Every. Fucking. Thing.

    That's the funny thing about politics: nobody thinks THEY are being political, it's always the other guy. MY party just wants thigs to be as they naturally and self-evidently SHOULD be, THEIR party wants to enforce some kind of unnatural practices and outlandish ideologies.

    "The way things are" IS political, you just can't see it because you are inside it.

I am the wandering glitch -- catch me if you can.

Working...