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Unexpectedly Political Games
I'm always surprised by which games end up being discussed in terms of their politics and which don't. Of course, the level of political education in the games scene is shockingly low, but one of the stranger side effects is that extremely political content is sometimes not even parsed as such!
Two good examples in recent years - from entirely different ends of the indie/AAA spectrum - are Cargo Commander and Borderlands 2, both of which do a lot of things that I find fascinating and well-executed. So I wonder... is there anything else that I've missed? What games is games journalism not telling me about?
Jonas, aren't ALL videogames political at heart?
I wonder about Cart Life sometimes. I know it wasn't intended with a political dimension, but it certainly has one. Most people seem to think of it as depressing. There's less attention paid to where it's theme comes from: the real lives of the poor.
Depicting poverty and poor people certainly means making a political statement about how society operates.
Well Cart Life is depressing because there's no option to get a Patreon and leave your shitty insulting service job behind for glory as a game critic.
It's not really come up in any discussions of The Wolf Among Us I've yet seen, although in fairness we're only two episodes in as yet. But there's already a lot to take from it about immigrant communities, political corruption, class divides and urban poverty. It just remains to be seen whether any of this is there to make a political point or because it's what one expects from a gritty noir-inspired crime thriller.
Batman continues to beat up poor people in all his games, too. Well, occasionally he beats up a rich person too. The latter get to have names!
I wrote an essay last year about how Age of Empires II is inherently capitalist. Here's an extract - past-me can put it better than present-me:
"The society represented by AoK is not the medieval society it presents itself as. It might have knights, kings and workers, but these elements interact differently from their historical counterparts. Instead, it presents an allegory of capitalism, and although the model is not a perfect representation of a capitalistic market – there are no wages, for example – the implicit capitalist dynamics of the game are clear."
I basically found it weird that AoE2 and AoE (not to mention many other strategy games) use the same mechanics to model widely different historical eras. Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages were very different but are modelled identically. I came up with the idea that buying, allocating and upgrading these completely obedient workers was, ironically, a much better model for present-day labour than for medieval labour (albeit in a vastly simplified way).
See also, any management game ever. The implicit rules of the game dictate what sort of politics it generates. For example, picture a city management game designed by Ayn Rand. Now picture a similar game designed by Marx. They would be very different.
Oh yes, I remember that piece! It was a good'un.
I have vague plans to spin my love of science fiction into something similar focusing on space 4X games.
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