Politics in Games: Where's the line?

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ArcticFox
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Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Mon Dec 17, 2018 4:18 pm

So I've been playing Red Dead Redemption II and working on a review for it. I'm not planning to talk about any political issues in my review, but it did occur to me that a separate discussion on when a game is being political and when it isn't, or where the line is, might be interesting.

At one point in the story of the game, there's a quest where you (As Arthur Morgan) wind up being "drafted" to drive the wagon for a local protests, by women, pushing for women's suffrage. The story takes place right around the time women's right to vote was acknowledged by a Constitutional Amendment and you see some of the beginnings of it. So the question is: Is the game being political? If so, is it taking a side? If so is it pushing an agenda? If so, is it crossing the line?

I don't know about all that. The Women's Suffrage movement is an actual historical event that takes place at the same time as the game, so it isn't a stretch that Arthur would encounter it. Now, women's equality is an issue that has come back into the political spotlight in recent years, so it's easy to wonder whether this particular element was placed in the game because of contemporary issues.

I think a reasonable standard is this: Suppose this game had come out at a time when women's equality issues weren't a big item in political discussions. Let's say, 25 years ago. And let's say this part of the game was in it, in exactly the same way. Would it seem weird? Would it feel out of place?

Honestly, I think my answer is no. It doesn't preach, it doesn't seem to be pushing one side or the other. Arthur's attitude is mostly one of indifference and he doesn't seem to really care one way or the other. Some of the other characters in the scene are for it, some against, and there doesn't seem to be a strong pattern of 'good vs bad.'

So is RDR2 being political here? Is it virtue signaling? I don't think so. I think this is an example of a matter of historical politics appearing in the game's story, but in a way that's perfectly believable and fits the world.

Will it stay that way as the story progresses? I don't know. We'll see.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby Beastbot » Tue Dec 18, 2018 10:50 pm

To me, the "line" deals less with how much the game actually delves into politics and more about how much they ADVERTISE that they're delving into politics.

For example, right now I'm playing Marvel's Spider-Man. It's a great game (once I finish it and the three DLC story expansions, I plan on submitting my first review to CCG). But it gets a little preachy when it comes to leftist environmentalist dogma. There's an entire sub-category of side missions (Research Stations) that mostly have to deal with environmental issues (like regulating the air in NYC and taking certain cars off the road that give off "too much" pollution-- even though that isn't Spider-Man's job, or OSCORP's, for that matter). Plus, should Spider-Man really be worrying about algae blooms in the Central Park lake when there's crimes going on and super villains running around? It feels blatantly out-of-place and weird. It's by no means the central point of the game-- but it's there, and it's nothing you would remotely expect playing a superhero game.

In other words, it feels snuck in for the purposes of changing minds of people that bought the game for completely different reasons. THAT is where I feel the line is crossed, although this game crosses it in a fairly minor manner.

This is actually the main reason I left mainstream game sites like Game Informer and started looking for sites like CCG. Way too often I'd see almost-universal glowing reviews about a game and buy it, only to be majorly burned because the game is all about a person discovering they're a lesbian and victims of "the patriarchy" (Gone Home) or very anti-religion (Iconoclasts), but it was never even hinted at in ANY reviews. To me, for reviewers, that's immoral even if you approve of that kind of stuff, because you know that a substantial portion of the population does have a problem with it, and you're not telling them about it because you want them to be exposed to that propaganda.

So, you want to make a game about how awesome it is to have three different romantic partners of different sexes at the same time or about a global warming apocalypse? Fine, that's your right. But advertise it as such-- this is both the responsibility of the game developer and the reviewers-- and let the consumer make an informed decision. Don't sneak it in the game.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Wed Dec 19, 2018 5:11 pm

You know, I honestly wonder sometimes if they're even self aware enough to recognize when they'd need to advertise it. For a lot of folks of certain political views, they genuinely think their opinions are the default, and that it's only natural to put their ideas into games because it's just how reality is... They actually get confused when someone complains.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby Beastbot » Wed Dec 19, 2018 11:03 pm

I think that may the case in some situations, but I think a lot of them know. Otherwise there'd be no reason why they'd hide talking about these issues in reviews, even positively. You think reviews would mention in "Gone Home" how inclusive it would be that the main character is a lesbian, or how Spider-Man addresses climate change, or how Iconoclasts encourages us to "believe in science and not dogma". But they don't touch it, which to me suggests they know and want to hide it. One of the last straws for me with Game Informer was when they refused to cover Gamergate "because it's not worth talking about". Even if literally everyone you knows agree with you, you know that this is a split country just from election results.
Plus, all you have to do is just skim the comments on any of those sites to find a fair amount of people who disagree with them. Particularly in the Trump era, those outside of the "mainstream" in media and pop culture have become more vocal (both for better AND for worse).
However, I think so many of them are convinced that either half of the country are literally Nazis and sexists or half of the country are literally hardcore Communists and Marxists (pick your side). Like many things, I think it all stems from the increasing polarization in this nation, where it's not even worth debating the other side respectfully. Thus instead you just try to change their kids' minds by inserting your propaganda secretly in something like a game. I forget who said it-- Franklin Roosevelt? John Dewey?-- and Google isn't helping me, but there is that semi-famous quote (paraphrased) "Education is to make students as little like their parents as possible". I think something similar is happening with a lot of these messages in video games.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:26 pm

Yeah true. And that's what makes a review site like this one critical... We can call that stuff out when it happens. My only caveat there is that I wouldn't go into it unless it was really egregious or is inappropriate content, apart from its political tone. I don't think it would serve this site well to start being political in its reviews. I mean, in these times to be openly Christian is to be political, in a sense, but it needn't go farther than that.

That being said, I do avoid entertainment media with political pandering or indoctrination in them. I'm strict about what I let my kids watch or play, and for myself I try to be aware because a lot of this stuff is meant to be so subtle you wouldn't notice it. Between that and the in doctrination in schools, you can't take your eyes off the road for a second.

Recently I did a review for Mass Effect: Andromeda and I did address the fact that the player can choose to enter into a romance with another character, and in some cases you do have the option to make it a gay relationship. I honestly don't really have an issue with that, provided the game doesn't push you to do it and provided that the game doesn't make a big show of it for virtue signaling purposes. ME:A plays it low key and just makes it an ordinary, unremarkable part of its world. (Fallout 4 does this too.) I'm okay with that because it puts the player in a position to choose to follow God's design when there's an option to go against it. To me, that's valuable spiritually.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby Beastbot » Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:22 pm

-Oh, I know, I'm not going to really get into political stuff in the actual review. I'm only briefly going to mention the Research Station missions as a minus, and mostly because doing things like regulating utilities and measuring air contaminants seems very out-of-step from what you would expect Spider-Man to be doing, and frankly some of it is boring, too.

-As for Mass Effect, I sort of agree with you. Something like that still does bother me a bit-- I don't think homosexuality/bisexuality/etc. should be treated as something normal and acceptable and not as part of a mental illness-- but I do appreciate that they allow you to "opt out", as it were. That said, even then I don't have much of a problem with it because this ties into what I was talking about earlier, with marketing. Mass Effect is clearly rated "M", which is basically a way of saying "anything except outright porn is fair game, folks". Now, if Mass Effect was rated "T" or-- heaven forbid-- "E10+", then I'd have a MUCH bigger problem with it.
Which to me brings me to a related topic-- because of these reasons, even though I'm 35, I'm pretty judicious when it comes to "M"-rated games, since this stuff seems to bug me more than the vast majority of other people. Beyond ME in the realm of "M" games, I've played the Fallout series, the Elder Scrolls series, and Darksiders, and a few select others. And even then, I wonder if I'm going to keep doing that with the current "generation" of games. Spider-Man is my first game from the current console generation (up until late November I was still playing PS3 games-- and still have some to get back to, which I will after Spider-Man), and the graphics are just astounding me, but it also makes me wonder if I'll still be able to play games like Fallout 4. Violence is the controversial category in games I seem to have the least aversion to-- as long as it's not super gory, I'm fine with it-- but with the increased graphical fidelity, will I still be okay with stuff like taking a gun and blowing someone's brains out? When the graphics weren't as lifelike it was easy not to let it get to you, but with Spider-Man graphics applied to something like Fallout... I dunno. I guess when I get to Fallout 4-- the only other PS4 disc game I have right now-- it'll be a "test" of sorts for me. If I'm bothered too much by this stuff now that it looks more real, I might just swear off M-rated games altogether. But again, I still appreciate that they warn you with that ESRB rating-- unfortunately with so many indie games today with no ratings, a game may LOOK child-friendly and yet totally not be, and you won't discover that fact unless you play it, which is very concerning to me.
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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Mon Dec 24, 2018 4:19 pm

Yeah I can understand that. And while overall Fallout 4 isn't super ultra graphic, it sometimes CAN be. You can also get some perks that would make it even worse, were you so inclined.

Modern graphics capabilities really make it possible for games to not only bring much more detailed graphics in general, it opens up options for those kinds of mature content, sometimes even more than anyone else. Some of the nudity in Mass Effect: Andromeda... whoa. They really do look to make the most of what they can do. Games with very graphic violence can really turn into a gore fest. I think some indie game devs may be starting to push the boundaries even further... as well as mixing things together. Think of the Hellraiser series of movies... sexualized graphic violence. (Also known as high-octane nightmare fuel)

Feels like we may need to add a few levels in the rating system sooner rather than later.
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
—Brigham Young

"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."
—Christopher Hitchens

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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ccgr » Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:18 pm

I'm open to tweaking the review guidelines but as an official non-profit it will have to go through the board for approval ;)

Great discussion guys! The only controversial game I played recently was Far Cry 5, it didn't shed a good light on Christianity ;)

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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Mon Dec 31, 2018 7:06 pm

I'm open to tweaking the review guidelines but as an official non-profit it will have to go through the board for approval ;)

Great discussion guys! The only controversial game I played recently was Far Cry 5, it didn't shed a good light on Christianity ;)
Yeah we definitely don't want to risk the non-profit status by getting political in the reviews. Like I said earlier, I like that they're non-political. By keeping the politics out, we remain neutral and focused on the stuff that matters. Is it a good game? Is there content that would make me hesitate to buy it for my kids?

I know literally nothing about Far Cry as a franchise. Never played any of them. Did you review it? I guess I can find out what the problem is with it by reading :wink:
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
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"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."
—Christopher Hitchens

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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ccgr » Tue Jan 01, 2019 12:11 am

Yeah I reviewed Far Cry 5 and linked it above for your convenience :)

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Re: Politics in Games: Where's the line?

Postby ArcticFox » Tue Jan 01, 2019 5:27 am

Yeah I reviewed Far Cry 5 and linked it above for your convenience :)
Ha you sure did. These observation skills of mine are the reason I'd be toast if my life depended on noticing things.
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
—Brigham Young

"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."
—Christopher Hitchens


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