Can Games Have a Political Narrative?

A piece running on Bitmob examines the issue of whether or not videogames should serve up social or political issues.

In attempting to answer the question, the author wonders if games such as Civilization or SimCity would benefit from scenarios featuring racial inequality or abject poverty.

Because of their mainstream appeal however, the scribe arrives at the conclusion that “too much is at stake” for games to include such messages, whether it’s because developers could interject their own point of view or because:

Video games will always be associated with the words such as pastime, relaxation, fun, children, fictitious (the list would go on), and that’s why games will never have a serious political voice.

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  1. 0
    insanejedi says:

    Games are totally capable, the only thing is that not only the general public who don’t play games view it as a "childish activity" but gamers themselves skip at almost every opportunity to talk about the political messages of some games. How many gamers and so called "journalists" were talking  about GTA4’s "DID IT REALLY DESERVED A 10?????" rather than "What does GTA suggest about the American Culture?" and write good essays on them like a good politically charged movie or documentry. How many people were talking about "What does Mass Effect suggest about racism and equality?" or "What does Bioshock say about the human choice?" Whenever a Jack Thompson or a Fox News or Roger Ebert guy shows up and talks smack about how they think that games have no political message, you guys sure jump on the topic and go like "GAMES CAN TOTALLY HAVE POLITICAL STATEMENTS!" but alot of you talk about the potential and never take the time or the opportunity to really talk about what’s actually there. To me that says a lot about what gamers think about games and all they want it to be is just "fun" but don’t want them to be seen as childish. I’m sorry guys but there is no free lunch, if you want games to have a status similar to movies or books then we’re going to have to work for it. You’ll have the odd "pertentious" gamer talking about these things, but they are really what are needed and we need more of them if we want to get out of this rut if we want to show the world that these games, really are more than just "games".

  2. 0
    olstar18 says:

    It would have to depend on how its presented. Take a look at the original night of the living dead. It addresses racism unintentionaly and respectfully and because of that I have heard very few people say anything about the movie being racist.

  3. 0
    Magic says:


    Incidentally, I was playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 last week (It’s very fun in co-op with friends and beer) and, having not read the Civil War storyline of the comics, was interested in how the conflict between pro\anti-reg could be seen as an odd take of liberal and conservative people in America. A law comes to pass in which superheroes \ mutants are required to register with the US government and effectively become agents of it, with the civil war aspect being that some are massively against it (A faction led by Captain America) while others think it’s very much necessary (Lead by Iron Man). It’s about personal freedoms vs. security. Captain America even mentions that the US has had its embarassing moments of the latter over the former (e.g. slavery, internment camps). So in between lots of fighting, it’s at least got some thought-provoking stuff. Naturally, this story originated in comics so it’s not like MUA2 can claim to be game with a political story, more one borrowing one from its source material.

    Anyway, I think comics are an excellent example – look at the intentional parallels of the X-men to the civil rights movement fifty years ago. You can even look at Batman being someone who has to extreme choices in his methods of dealing with crime and corruption. Why can’t games be like this? Aren’t some already? I can’t think of many obvious examples. However, I do agree that games can risk everything if they steer towards a political narrative, I think they have to be subtle, just in the same manner that those comics in the past did.

    Edit: Now that I think about it, GTA4 is the perfect example. It’s a hell of a take on the modern state of the American Dream. Weazel news is one of the most hilarious parodies of a certain right-wing ‘news’ channel (The Liberty Tree being the ‘liberal’ equivalent, but Weazel is so over the top it’s far more amusing in my opinion). One of the things you’re told near the end of the game is (paraphrasing here) "What’s the point in your values and morals if they can be bought?". That’s always stuck in my head, it sounds so obvious but it’s so true.

    Anyway, so what happens to GTA4? Nutjobs try to ban the game. Yeah.

  4. 0
    nighstalker160 says:

    People are simply incapable of evaluating this stuff objectively right now.

    If a game about racism was made half the people who say it was exploitative and the other half would call it reverse racism.

  5. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Though conversely, Civ would make things like poverty very difficult to explore since it is modeled off a ‘everyone gets stronger, you just have to get stronger faster’ setup.

    There is really very little room in the game for things like ‘big corrupt empire that is crushed by its own weight’ or ‘weak country using gorrillia tactics takes on big country’.

    Even with the ‘progressive’ aspects, they have always been rather forced.  Why does everyone pick democracy? Because it has the best bonsues.   There is no real feel of ‘democracy has XYZ effects, which trickly out to ABC’.    SMAC did a better job of this, and Civ4 imported part of SMAC’s system (though simplified)

  6. 0
    Kris says:

    Civilization does, to an extent.  If you play a more progressive civilization, you get better bonuses from the beginning.

    Particularly the more recent versions, the kindgom you pick can determine starting knowledge, bonus knowledge, specialized army units….  It won’t really have an effect on other kingdoms, unless you play it that way by acting out your kingdom’s role in history (by attacking specific places, or something). 

    In Civcity Rome you have to plan your city to boost your economy, and your upperclass citizens can purchase slaves (indeed, they have to if you want to meet the requirements to boost the size of their home and increase their standing). 

    It’s not exactly what he’s asking for…but I don’t know that you’ll really get that kind of realism from a mainstream title.  It sounds more like something that a focused organization would make on their own, as an informational game.

  7. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    "How much fun would you have if you were Wickus from District 9? For a large chunk of the movie he’s strapped to a table with scientists prodding him. In the game equivalent, you wouldnt be able to do anything, and thus be bored."

    In Assassin’s Creed the main character spends pretty much the entire time strapped to a table, with scientists around him.  Not the exact same situation, but my point is that, with a little imagination, there are always gameplay options available.

    Besides, a game version of District 9 wouldn’t have to focus on that aspect – you can basically skip it.  A movie needs to spend that time in order to help us to identify with a character.  In a game, the player is controlling the character, so a game can achieve the same level of empathy without going through the lengthy introductory process that a film requires.

    On the issue of RE5, I agree with you.  But making a game politically correct is not the same as making a political statement.  In fact it’s the opposite.  You make a game PC in order NOT to make a political statement.  The original version of RE5 makes much more of a political statement than does the ‘racially unbiased’ version.

  8. 0
    Kabyk says:

    Well, I agree somewhat with the quote in the article. Games are meant for immersive entertainment. They’re also time-consuming. The latter is why movies can be politically-charged and entertaining at the same time (District 9).

    However, you are playing a video game. How much fun would you have if you were Wickus from District 9? For a large chunk of the movie he’s strapped to a table with scientists prodding him. In the game equivalent, you wouldnt be able to do anything, and thus be bored.

    This also is part of the industry’s fault as well. Remember Resident Evil 5, anyone? Some idiots complained it was racists to have black people in Africa (go figure). Capcom argued for a short while, but gave in and said "meh", and changed some of the enemy models to white and asian. I think that felt more racist than leaving them all black, as thats just realistic and in no way racist. The reason for the submission, is this game is for fun. If it’s blown out of proportion into a social commentary, it’s not fun anymore.

  9. 0
    DarkSaber says:

    After reading the whole article I’d go so far as to promote the author from "not very well informed" to "drooling retard".


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  10. 0
    vellocet says:

    Whenever this sort of thing is brought up, I always think of the analogy of the Twilight Zone.

    I remember seeing an interview with Rod Serling (one of the greatest TV writers of all time and creator of The Twilight Zone).  He was asked the question whether he was going to deal with political and societal issues in his show.  Serling was known for creating controversial material for his shows and movies.  His response was that he would be dealing with pure science fiction.  As we all know, he made a lot of political and social commentary under that guise.  Same thing with Star Trek.  Under the guise of these subjects that are "associated with the words such as pastime, relaxation, fun, children, fictitious (the list would go on)" is precisely the way to get across controversial speech without heavy scrutiny.

    I have to wonder if the author actually understands that most fiction that deals with political or societal matters don’t do it overtly.  Something tells me that he/she’s not very well informed.

  11. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    Wow!  I’m almost speechless.  It just goes to show how out of touch the author of this piece is.  Heck, it’s hard for me to even think of a game title that doesn’t explore some sort of serious political issue.

  12. 0
    jedidethfreak says:

    A game absolutely could have a deep political narrative.  The problem is that, in today’s world, the political climate is so sheerly divided that such a game would be a love it/hate it affair based on its story, regardless of how good or bad any other part of the game is.  People who agree with the political viewpoints portrayed would like the game no matter how much it sucked, and people who don’t agree with them would hate the game no matter how good it was.

    It would take a particular developer, more interested in making an "artsy" game versus a popular one, to make such a game.  This is already apparent in film, as most movies with an overt political message aren’t really meant for entertainment.  Yes, there are some entertaining films with a political message, but most of those have the message so well hidden that you could take whatever kind of message you wanted from the film.  However, this already exists in gaming.

    He was dead when I got here.

  13. 0
    DarkSaber says:

    Have they been living in a cave the last 15 years or something?


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

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