Politics, in a videogame?

‘Keep politics out of videogames’ is unfortunately something I have seen crop up from time to time. It’s an odd statement to make, when really politics is everywhere. The problem is most people don’t realise that nearly every decision one makes can has political implications.

Often when people claim to not want politics in their videogames what they actually mean is that either they don’t want something boring like political processes (see also bureaucracy and law) in a game, or a political position that they disagree with (insert hot political topic here), maybe even both.

I’m in a biased position as I have opted to spend over seven years of my life directly learning about politics, and whilst it won’t be the core part of my studies to come, it is an area that will always be of interest to me and influence my wider understanding of the world.

Yet the opinion that all politics should be absent from videogames is quite simply absurd. What’s more this position is dangerous. The irony with such a position is that by declaring that politics should be absent is in itself a political decision. The problem with this is that, as Keza MacDonald (of Kotaku UK) points out, this brings up parallels with the line of thought propagated by the Nazi’s. For them art should be apolitical, meaning it should look good and could draw upon themes of love or beauty, but it could not have any political connotations. The exception to this of course being connotations that supported the Nazi regime; in other words propaganda.

Triumph of the Will is a film by acclaimed director Leni Riefenstahl in 1935 that shows off a rally at Nuremberg along with various speeches by Adolf Hitler and other members of the Nazi hierarchy. Whilst today we look at it as an obvious piece of propaganda, and it was the intention when the film was commissioned by Hitler, it is an astonishing piece of art. Riefenstahl was an accomplished cinematographer and this is evident in the stunning shots that are present in the film.

This leaves us with an interesting dilemma, but one that disproves the argument that politics should be left out of art, or in our case; videogames. Triumph of the Will is a fascinating piece of art, but it would not exist were it not for politics. There are only very few people in the world (although still more than there should) who agree with the motives that the film aims to help propagate, but that does not mean that it does not have the right to continue to exist. The further irony in this lies in the fact that banning the film from existing is just like what the Nazi’s would do with material they did not agree with.

Therefore we should ignore YouTube personalities (whose name I won’t include here) who state that ‘injecting politics into fiction is naturally exclusionary and in my view regressive’. In this person’s view then the original Bioshock should not exist because the game is highly political due to its interpretative critique of Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideology. Having read Rand’s two main novels, with her final novel Atlas Shrugged (a key influence of Bioshock), which essentially describes her ideology in practise, I found myself at a dillema. This was because parts of her ideology, to me, made sense, but there were others that seemed to go beyond what was necessary and would be counterproductive.

Having read this I found my own political beliefs challenged and my knowledge expanded. Of course if it hadn’t been for playing Bioshock it is very unlikely that I would have read it in the first place, despite my interest in politics (Atlas Shrugged is basically four books in one).

If games like Bioshock (or many other games that incorporate overt political content) don’t challenge a political view and/or ideology, then it is that which is regressive.


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