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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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  • by symes ( 835608 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:17AM (#29668105) Journal

    you are not on your own anymore, you are part of a team

    My guess is that people are more likely to stick with team games because of this social element, even when they don't feel like playing. The result is team games are more profitable, so they are more likely to survive.

  • by Mortiss ( 812218 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:43AM (#29668233)
    What about the possibility that previously in games due to technical limitations of the hardware the only character you could have is your "bald white space-marine" and the co-op was simply to hard to implement.

    Therefore, the increase in co-op play is simply because it is now possible to implement much more complex game play elements and the whole "ideology" argument is just a try hard interpretation trying to push politic and racism discussion into what is pure entertainment?
  • Flower? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:47AM (#29668255)

    Has anyone played Flower from the PSN before? I'd argue that game certainty puts forth a bit of political ideology. It is a beautiful game, and the political suggestion is subliminal - but there's no doubting it's there. I think it's more or less the vision of the developer - man and nature in harmony, green-peace and all that jazz. The game starts devoid of man-made objects... it gradually descends into a very dark and forlorn cityscape-esque locale, only to re-emerge in a bright and colorful world where the city pieces are blended with the nature pieces. Overtly political, maybe not - but there's no denying that the designer was pushing a message and that gamers, if they are paying attention at all to presentation, will understand that a message is being pushed.

    Are all games political? No, of course not. Like movies though, and other forms of media, some are, some are not.

  • by ciderVisor ( 1318765 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:11AM (#29668407)

    What about the possibility that previously in games due to technical limitations of the hardware the only character you could have is your "bald white space-marine"

    That's how Mario [wikipedia.org] came to have his distinguishing features.

    "Due to the graphical limitations of arcade hardware at the time, Miyamoto clothed the character in bright red overalls and a blue shirt to contrast against each other and the background, adding white gloves to distinguish the character's arms on the screen as they swung back and forth. A cap was added to let Miyamoto avoid drawing the character's hairstyle, while preventing issues of animating his hair as he jumped.[8] To make him appear human onscreen despite his small size they gave Mario a large nose, and added a mustache to avoid drawing a mouth due to the difficulty of illustrating facial expressions at that size.[10]"

  • Re:Racism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by noundi ( 1044080 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:13AM (#29668425)

    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?

    The day a famous racist become synonymous with the song. It's proposterous, I know, if you don't believe me look at Hitler's moustache and tell me that this association isn't even more proposterous. A song at least has the potential of being political, but facial hair? The point is we humans are silly beings whom associate irrelevant traits to our fears so that we hopefully can avoid them no matter the cost, in this case racism, on both sides. The racists fear the tone of skin, or the genes of other ethnicities (usually they don't even know what a genome is, and if they do they still don't know the implications of it, because nobody yet understands our complex bodies) and then we have those who fear the racists. These are the same people that associate songs or facial hair with racism, avoid it at all cost. It's truly remarkable how people are unaware of these very basic traits, or rather flaws, of ours. Then again we humans have always been self centred and self righteous idiots, no matter what side we're on -- simply because we're always on one.

  • what about...? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:39AM (#29668587)

    us vs. them
    indiscriminate violence
    force as a means to achieve one's ends
    found money (gold, coin, etc.)
    traditional gender expectations ...and this list could go on and on.

    Not all games, but certainly many. It's hard to create a product (work of art, if you will) that resists or subverts the dominant cultural ideology of where and when it was made. Open up your minds, people.

    cheers, -m

  • Re:Racism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:21AM (#29668889)
    I was exposed to this exact usage of racism in both a LGBT studies class and a socialism of race/gender class in college. In both cases, the professors seemed surprised anyone might consider this definition of racism to be very questionable.
  • Re:Racism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:36AM (#29669041) Homepage
    The Magic Flute [wikipedia.org] is obviously an attack on the sacred institution of marriage, deviously engineered by The Homosexual Lobby.

    Actually The Magic Flute was a deeply symbolic work based on freemason philosophy, and could be intepreted on an attack on the religious institutions of the age.
  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @09:53AM (#29669243) Journal

    Just this morning I realized that Civilization (at least the current one, Civ IV) doesn't have the theory of evolution, or Darwin, mentioned in the Tree of Science of the game. I am pretty sure there wasn't in Civ 1, either. I wonder if that was on purpose, in order to not jeopardize sales to a certain demographic?

  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:11AM (#29669465) Homepage
    The voyage of the beagle is wonder in those games.
    That is about the only place it could fit since it is not a technology, I guess they could of added a Eugenics social path.
  • by SuiteSisterMary ( 123932 ) <slebrun@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:16AM (#29669527) Journal

    I think people get things backwards. Enemies which resemble Nazis, in games, don't necessarily resemble Nazis because the game is trying to make a point. Sometimes, just sometimes, it's because 'Nazi' is a really really convenient shorthand for all sorts of concepts and ideas which most Westerners implicitly get.

    Much like a 'wise old man' isn't in a game to cast aspersions on the young, but because 'wise old man' is a useful trope, an idiom, an archetype. Making your ficticious villians look vaguely like Nazis fills in all sorts of blanks automatically.

  • by pmontra ( 738736 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:26AM (#29669649) Homepage
    +2 to parent. How most games could be co-op back when boys were playing them on consoles with no network connections?
  • Re:Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YouWantFriesWithThat ( 1123591 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:50AM (#29669903)
    both you and the GP have interesting posts, and i wanted to respond just to give a counter example. i am not so arrogant that i would deny the validity of what you are saying, but my experience with a similar issue was very different. sometimes it is good to see a contrast in anecdotes, no?

    i took several women's studies classes in college (yeah, i was that one guy in the class) and we discussed class/race/gender extensively. there would be lots of talk about how being a member of a 'privileged' group could be blind to or unaware of their privilege. there was never a suggestion that this person was "automatically" classist/racist/gender biased. being a member of 'privileged' class/race/gender is something that one generally has little choice in. being biased against a group is active, it is a belief set that one usually acts on or uses to govern their actions.

    there are people that hold the beliefs that you and the GP are describing, but i am surprised that they are being taught at face value. that is an example of a time in which the professor should be teaching the debate, not just teaching one side of it. i do recall a discussion in a feminist theory class that was evoked with a questions similar to "are men inherently sexist? can a man be a feminist? does being the member of a privileged group make one unable to understand disadvantage and work for change?"

    the consensus was that men are not inherently sexist, but it is easy for a man to be blind to their privilege. this could be extrapolated to different groups and issues. i have found this to be true in me, and in my experiences. interesting stuff, and i am sorry that your professors were blind to the problems with how they were teaching about race.
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @01:07PM (#29671649) Homepage
    since an Objectivist society would never work without upwards of 95% rational actors

    No offense, but 95% of Objectivists aren't rational people. It's a third rate philosophy set forth in fourth rate books by a fifth rate mind.
  • by Bat Country ( 829565 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @01:33PM (#29671919) Homepage

    I made a point in a term paper a few years back that the very nature of GTA, though transgressive, transmits a clear establishment message. You cannot beat the police in GTA. You may escape them, but you cannot stop them. Any attempt to directly oppose the police always inevitably leads to death as there will always be more of them than you. The police in GTA are individually stupid, collectively difficult to evade, and taken as an entire establishment entirely invincible.

    Further, there's a recognition (especially in GTA San Andreas) of the fact that the player you embody is fundamentally broken and leads a life devoid of meaning. All of the most likable characters in the games are either killed, betray you or are the "straight men" - the people who point out to your character the failure of their lifestyle.

    So although the GTA games allow you to explore your own dark side it seems to guide you to the message that not only is the world better off without your enemies (the people you kill throughout the game) but also without you (the killer).

  • by AmberBlackCat ( 829689 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @02:37PM (#29672719)

    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.

    In real life, I get called a slut, a whore, and a bitch and people assume I am all those things. It would be nice if in a video game I could get away from it, but it's no different. The games just make you a slut/whore/bitch who can fight.

    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.

    And these are just the things I've noticed as a Black woman and occasional Slashdot user. I doubt there are only three things.

    So yes, video games are full of ideology. And they may be an escape from reality, but they won't help you stop thinking about the same shit you get everywhere else. It just helps you imagine yourself in a different position within that shit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @04:06PM (#29673825)

    You're still looking at incidents that may be the result of individuals' passions or passive-aggression. I am more referring to politics as a summation. You, as an individual, certainly have preferences, an outlook, and idiosyncrasies; you have a degree of autonomy over your destiny. However, more abstract forces that result sometimes from decisions designated leaders make, sometimes from the sum of decisions we all make feed back into your decision-making process.

    You probably drive a car (insert another example from modernity if you must). There are roads for you to drive on. The technical achievements, political will, and cultural changes that allow you to do this are, again, the result of processes beyond the individual. Does this excuse individuals from leading responsible lives? Far from it. Does this mean that the assumptions and norms that push people towards reliance on automobiles does not have profound effects, whether you personally opt in or opt out of the driving culture? Another example could be crime: Why do some areas have more of it and some less? This isn't pointless abstraction just to fill up journals and opinion pieces.

    Politics isn't just about atomic hot-button issues or the partisan back-and-forth. It's also about how we decide who gets what and how, how disputes are resolved, where the balance between individual and society should be drawn, etc. These are large-scale questions, and that's because it isn't a simple matter of individuals authoring their will free of any context or cause and effect.

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:18PM (#29676215)

    You're mostly correct and present some excellent illustrations.

    I guess what had me pushing so hard the other way was the notion that politics can and should be read into trivial things. Like games and bowel movements. :-) I really get tired of that. I deal from time to time with people who will exert extreme effort to help disadvantaged people understand the greater context of how they've been put down by a system that's loaded against them...but they can't be arsed (Is that the right brit-ism?) to give those same people a hot meal and some useful job training.

    Yes, it's important to pay attention to the way human beings in large groups interact, label that politics, and try to keep it in mind when, for example, building roads.

    But I remain unconvinced that it's worth an erg of effort to understand the political influences in computer games. :-)

    A big thanks - this has been the most gratifying exchange I've had on slashdot in many a moon.

  • by Zalminen ( 658870 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @01:16AM (#29677539)

    In real life, I get called a slut, a whore, and a bitch and people assume I am all those things.

    Not necessarily.

    Most men call someone a whore because it seems to be the one insult that always works. 'Slut' is very similar. 'Fat' is almost as effective - but not quite.

    Most men are not verbally talented enough or have good enough intuition to use more accurate insults.

    Now why are 'whore' and 'slut' so effective insults? Well, that's a whole different question...

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"