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Games Politics

How Video Games Reflect Ideology 244

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."
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How Video Games Reflect Ideology

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  • Re:Racism (Score:4, Informative)

    by prichardson ( 603676 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:30AM (#29668175) Journal

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    I didn't read that passage as being racist at all. The author was clearly talking about increasing diversity in games and how the standard space-marine character pushes against that. Do not confuse the lack of diversity with racism. They are very different things.

    Incidentally, how exactly can you interpret Mozart's 5th symphony to be racist? Is there something abut B flat I don't know? Do you object to the thin orchestration?

  • Eh. (Score:3, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:27AM (#29668493) Journal
    I'm not wildly convinced. Obviously, like any cultural artefact, a game is going to reflect its environment to some degree(and the apparent effect of environment will be a lot stronger once you narrow your focus to commercially viable/successful titles, since only things that are resonant with the population at large will sell well); but the effects of technical limitations and the strongly derivative tendencies of the industry are huge confounding variables.

    For instance, at any given point in time, console games are going to have greater emphasis on co-op or small scale competitive play than are PC games. Is this because PCs are for rugged individualists and consoles are produced by the people's ministry for prolaterian collective culture? Clearly not, most of the players in the two industries are the same, or quite similar, it's just that the PC only really has single-user input support and tends to be connected to a smallish screen, while consoles have multi-user input support and tend to be connected to larger TVs.

    Similarly, the rise in multiplayer only or heavily multiplayer oriented PC and console games is more about the fact that internet access is now quite common, and doesn't cost several dollars an hour anymore, which means that a designer can reasonably assume that a large pool of internet-connected players will exist at any given time.
  • Re:Racism (Score:5, Informative)

    by cvd6262 ( 180823 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:04AM (#29668757)

    There is an area of academic pursuit that is actively trying to shift the meaning of "racism" and racist to encompass any white (written with a lowercase "w") member of society. Understanding White Privilege by Fances Kendall is a good read on the matter. Basically, our society is racist because members of different races exercise varying degrees of privilege. Because members of privileged groups cannot divorce themselves of the privileges that they receive from our racist society, all members of the privileged race are racists. Conversely, no Black (written with an uppercase "B") can be racist.

    Such reasoning is extended to declare any member of the privileged sex "sexist," the privileged sexual orientation "homophobic," etc. This "privilege theory" was the basis for the now-retracted freshmen curriculum at the University of Delaware. []

    Lest I be flamed for this, let me be clear that I completely reject these notions. But they are central to many people's understanding of "racist." I've found that one's definition of the term to be central to many disagreements.

  • Missile Command (Score:5, Informative)

    by westlake ( 615356 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:20AM (#29668877)

    I guess this is why I prefer abstract games which have little connection to anything - like Pacman or Missile Command or Metroid

    In 1993 Microsoft published Arcade and Return of Arcade - Atari arcade hits adapted for Windows 3.1.

    The entire collection filled all of four floppy disks. Brief essays sketched the history of the each game, with comments from the developers. Missile Command had a visceral impact that few games have ever matched:

    The escape from reality could have frightful consequences. The horrifying subject matter of Missile Command had an affect on the developers.

    Dave Theuner: "It was pretty scary. During the project and for six months after the project, I'd wake up in a cold sweat because I's have these dreams where I'd see the missile streak coming in and I'd see the impact. I'd be up on top of a mountain and I'd see the missiles coming in, and I'd know it would be about 30 seconds until the blast hit and fried me to a crisp."

    Steve Calfee: "Everyone I knew who got really into the game had nightmares about nuclear war."

    "We had this big thing about the name of the game. From the beginning it was called Armageddon. The management, themselves, didn't know what the word meant and they thought none of the kids would. Engineering loved the name Armageddon and we always wanted to call it that. From the very top came the message
    Ed Rotberg said "The thing about Missile Command is that the world was not nearly as stable politically as it is now. There is a little bit of a spooky message in that whole game when you have that final cloud at the end."

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:42AM (#29669121) Homepage
    I have avoided Bioshock for that reason. I'm not enthusiastic about how it demonizes objectivism for a cheap plot point.

    How do you know it's a cheap plot point if you haven't played it? Maybe it's a very profound plot point?
  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:54AM (#29669963) Journal

    WTF are you on about? There is plenty of stuff in the Civ IV Science Tree that is not tech related. About 1/3 is religion, philosophy and arts related.

  • by Pinckney ( 1098477 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:19PM (#29671105)

    The voyage of the beagle is wonder in those games.

    In Civ II, at least. Additionally, "Theory of Evolution" is a wonder in Civ III.

  • Re:Seen this a lot (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:39PM (#29671359)
    Another one: Grandia II had anti-clerical elements heavily inspired by Catholicism.
  • by The Archon V2.0 ( 782634 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @03:14PM (#29673199)

    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.

    Well, since Balrog's original name is actually M(ike) Bison [], that one is more a comment on a specific Black man's tendencies than on the race as a whole.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.