Video Games and Their Political Meaning

#1

So recently there’s been some conversation revolving around “The Division 2” and how the creators claimed in a recent Polygon interview that the game has no political message. I’ve seen a lot of developers in social media addressing this statement from the perspective of all games are inherently political and it’s a stance I am inclined to agree with. In terms of “The Division 2” we had a conversation about a recent article (https://variety.com/2019/gaming/reviews/the-division-2-review-1203166739/). One of the themes that really intrigued me is the question of whether a games mechanics surrounding randomly generated guns and loot is actually a political statement or just a feature of a typical shooter game.

The statement I wrote was the following:

I think Context is super important for this piece. Recently in interviews, people who worked on The Division 2 have been stating that their game is devoid of politics or that The Division 2 does not make any political statement. Its been a hot topic for game developers in the twitter-sphere, ect. Because it’s a common narrative for people to trash a game because it’s too political. As if to say that games in their construction, just like any other art form aren’t inherently political. What the writer is doing in this piece is addressing that statement by showing exactly just how The Division 2 IS political. Which should be obvious simply by the fact that it’s a Tom Clancy property which is immensely and historically political. I agree that it’s less a Review than it is a think piece, but then again sometimes reviews are in their nature heavily influenced by the political messaging of the product being reviewed.
I also think that while Shooting is just a key aspect of a shooter game, the structure of the gameplay in relation to the narrative can highly change the overall picture. A loot system that focuses on getting bigger and better guns is definitely a form of power fantasy. Per example, I love Borderlands for its implementation of this concept. I’m constantly excited to see what gun I get next, and how it will look and how it will shoot and how it will reload and what other quirks it would have. But in the immensely political landscape of a Tom Clancy setting, that takes a whole other meaning. A much more NRA, protect the homeland with your guns, sorta messaging that resonates with contemporary issues.

I was wondering what the rest of the community thinks about this?

Do you disagree?
If you agree, What other games do you know of in which basic mechanics have a broader political or metaphorical meaning in the context of its narrative?
What are your thoughts on the article or the broader conversation?

Let’s Discuss!

#2

Jim Sterling has a video where he breaks down the absurdity of calling The Division 2 devoid of politics when it is literally about a revolution and takes place in Washington DC (the video is NSFW, in case you check it out, btw).
And without even talking about intended artistic messages, politics thrust themselves upon games all the time. This happens whenever a politician proposes regulating the violence in games. So creating an apolitical violent game that you intend to sell to millions is impossible because it is out of your hands.
If there is a problem with Shooting as a concept, then we have to consider the zillions of cop shows and action movies where it is at the core of conflict. If there is something problematic about it, then chances are that is an indication of our cultural zeitgeist as a whole.
That being said, a fact that is conveniently forgotten is that the only reason that game publishers get to use name brand and likeness of real weapons is because manufacturer’s give them the licensing for free. Why? Because the games work as free advertising. So there’s not just a symbolic connection to modern politics - there’s an avenue to promote sales.

2 Likes