Monday, May 22, 2017

Opinion Piece - Politics In Gaming

In a recent article of GameInformer magazine written by Associate Editor, Elise Favis, readers are exposed to the often controversial topic of placing political elements in video games. According to her assessment, a majority of the gaming community would be opposed to this invasive practice of placing these often not-too-subtle points of contention in their titles. This might be in part due to the ideal of most gamers having a medium of escapism from the world's harsh realities of life. There is an expectation of entertainment value without pondering too much.

There are radical movements such as GamerGate that passionately oppose such realism. However, I share the sentiment that Favis has in that "Politics not only matter, but they also make for better games and better stories." That's not to say that every game should apply such politically motivated components to them.

What are politics anyway? For those of you that are unaware (or those that have tried to repress any form of such discussion), politics essentially boils down to the theories and practices of governing or influencing other people in society. This often means curbing people's actions either for the benefit or detriment of the public. Ideally, the former is more desireable than the latter, but there are those that often use their power and dominion to persuade others to be corruptible.

There have been some games that fall completely flat when trying to spur feelings of activism or social awareness. None come to my mind at this moment, but it's fair to say that a political approach does not always enhance the entertainment value of a video game.

The gaming industry is ever changing though and preconceived notions of fantasy and science fiction have constantly been reshaped to fit the times. Indie developers are always trying to push the envelope digitally with enhanced graphics and storylines. It is thus to be expected that future narratives will mimic and reflect the values and concerns of the decade. As Elise Favis puts it, "The most memorable games are the ones that leave you to ponder their meanings, and politics are just one of the many methods to facilitate discussion."

Furthermore, video games (at least in my own personal opinion) are indeed a form of art, akin to the works of contemporary novelists and abstract artisans. There are numerous stories that can be told with players offered ultimatums that effect the worlds they inhabit, however briefly. Favis uses examples of games such as Mafia III, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and The Last of Us Part II, but one example that immediately comes to my mind is that of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs 2.

The microaggressive actions of Brody Goodale, senior programmer for the fictional tech company Nudle, upon Horatio Carlin for one instance, brought light to a daily problem in the real world felt by minorities. Harassment and general glares of suspicion are not uncommon from white, privileged individuals towards persons of color, even if they are law abiding citizens.

One scene that stood out for me involved a high tech automobile with an artificial intelligence (AI) that tells Marcus Holloway that facial recognition can’t identify him because his skin is too dark. This was an example in-game of a real-world incident where cameras by HP could not recognize dark-skinned individuals. Watch Dogs 2 is one of my most enjoyed games.

I can't say I didn't laugh when the AI had trouble profiling Marcus, but sometimes humor is the only option we have in order to keep calm in those moments of high tension. Often, comedy and satire increase the awareness of such issues. We're all human. We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. However, that doesn't mean we can't try to be better people. As with all things, we should use a modicum of moderation when applying political undertones.

Works Cited

Favis, E. (2017, June). Get Your Politics Into My Games. GameInformer, (290), 32-32.