How political should games be?

A shattered end-time world, mysterious happenings and a brave courier who has to unite the country again – that is the essence of Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding. Norman Reedus as courier Sam Porter Bridges brings people together, and we as players get the tools. We build bridges and leave tools and messages to other death stranding fans in the divided world. According to his own statement, Kojima was inspired by current politics. But while in reality walls were built by Donald Trump and bridges were torn down by Brexit, the metal gear solid creator preferred to connect people. And although Death Stranding is not an explicitly political game, it reflects the worldview of its maker.

Now the question arises: Should video and computer games spread such messages or are they just a simple pastime? Because even if it sounds like a cliché: Games are a very young medium, but have long surpassed other forms of entertainment in terms of distribution. According to Game, the federal association of the German games industry, games reached 2018 in Germany alone over 34 million people, The average age of users rose continuously and is now over 36 years; of course also due to the greater spread of mobile devices.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2019/12/politik02-buffed.jpg" alt = "For Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima was inspired by Donald Trump's politics and also by Brexit. However, he reinterpreted these motifs and emphasized in his open world adventure the connection of people in a failed world.
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For Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima was inspired by Donald Trump's politics and also by Brexit. However, he reinterpreted these motifs and emphasized in his open world adventure the connection of people in a failed world.

Source: Moby Games




Digital games are a huge market that generated sales of around EUR 4.4 billion in Germany in 2018 alone. Just recently the Ministry of Transport confirmed the game funding until 2023. In future, 50 million euros of funding will flow into the German game industry every year. The new medium has long been part of everyday social and political life, but often does not really want to be political.

Part of politics for a long time

When the game industry hits the political headlines, it often ends up with problems. In 2019, industry giant Blizzard gloriously drew attention to itself. What happened? Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai took a stand on the protests in his home country of Hong Kong after winning the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters. During the live stream interview, he wore ski goggles and a gas mask and proclaimed the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our age!"





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2019/12/politik03-buffed.jpg" alt = "The medieval role-playing game Kingdom Come: Deliverance was criticized even before it was released Studio boss Daniel Vávra was accused of racism as well as for the very white population of the open game world.
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The medieval role-playing game Kingdom Come: Deliverance was criticized even before its release. There were racial accusations against studio boss Daniel Vávra as well as for the very white population of the open game world.

Source: Moby Games





Blizzard responded promptly: The Californians blocked the popular eSportsman for a year and withdrew the prize money for Season 2. So just a few weeks before Blizzcon 2019, the Hearthstone makers' in-house exhibition, a huge shitstorm broke out, among other things <a href = "https : //www.buffed.de/Hearthstone-Spiel-56561/News/Blitzchung-BoycottBlizzard-1334322/ "title =" the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard "target =" _ blank "> the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard tripped on Twitter. During the opening ceremony of the fair <a href = "https://www.pcgameshardware.de/Blizzard-Firma-15293/News/CEO-entuldigt-sich-fuer-die-Hong-Kong-Kontroverse-um-Hearthstone-1336115/ "title ="Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack apologized"target =" _ blank ">Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack apologized and emphasized that you did not meet your own standards and had missed your goal. Blizzard stands for promoting freedom of expression and connecting people.

Also in October, the "killer game debate", which has been known since Erfurt's school rampage in 2002, returned on the scene. Following the right-wing terrorist attack in Halle on October 9, 2019, in which the perpetrator shot two people with self-made weapons, injured others and streamed this on Twitch, said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer: "We have to take a closer look at the gamer scene." However, the discussion subsided as quickly as it was fueled. These two examples show how quickly video and computer games and politics can collide with one another. Perhaps that is exactly why the mainstream gaming industry is so reluctant to give a clear opinion on political motives.

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War in the video test

Stereotypes and platitudes

Although many large game productions clearly relate to contemporary history and politics, most developers are reluctant to position themselves clearly. For example, Ubisoft's The Division focused on a terrorist attack that was spread via dollar bills on Black Friday. The subsequent epidemic took away the social order in the virtual USA and caused the collapse of the state apparatus, including loud voices of displeasure by the citizens. However, Ubisoft repeatedly emphasized that this setting was not politically motivated.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2019/12/politik04-buffed.jpg" alt = "Political ideologies clash in the first person shooter Metro 2033. The survivors of the nuclear disaster rot in red the Moscow metro and form their own communities here, some with extreme ideas.
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Political ideologies collide in the first person shooter Metro 2033. The survivors of the nuclear disaster gather in the Moscow subway and form their own communities here, some with extreme ideas.

Source: Moby Games




Developers of other games such as Deux Ex: Mankind Divided used the term "mechanical apartheid" to concisely portray racism and discrimination within the game world, <a href = "https://www.polygon.com/2016/7/6/ 11990828 / deus-ex-mankind-divided-and-the-problem-of-mechanical-apartheid "title ="but rather instrumentalized him"target =" _ blank ">but rather instrumentalized himthan really charge him politically. There are many other titles that use such motifs, but still see themselves primarily as a virtual playground.

Politics and ideologies are a hot topic; only a few developers dare to touch it. The reason behind this is simple: Studios and publishers are vulnerable. With positioning, developers automatically offend part of the gigantic target group. The result can be a possible shitstorm and consequently falling sales figures. As a result, the message is often steamed down to the lowest common denominator: oppression is bad and racism even more so. You have to do something about it. So get your arms on!

Alternatively, games like to exaggerate politics and its actors to the point of absurdity or draw stereotypes of corrupt or optionally incompetent dignitaries. Here, the offer ranges from the incompetent US President from Splinter Cell: Blacklist to depraved subjects such as Congressman Thomas Stubbs III from GTA 4 and the download episode The Lost and Damned. Really honest politicians are rare in games.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2019/12/politik05-buffed.jpg" alt = "In Papers, Please, we work as border guards in a totalitarian state. We work well, maintain we get perks, we make mistakes or even help people to escape, our (virtual) family may suffer as a result.
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In Papers, Please we work as a border official in a totalitarian state. If we work well, we get discounts, we make mistakes or even help people to escape, our (virtual) family may suffer as a result.

Source: Moby Games




Of course, games do exist in which politics plays an important role. And by that we mean strategy games only to a limited extent, since diplomacy is an important criterion and often a victory condition, but other aspects are simply brushed aside when expanding one's own sphere of influence – see for example Civilization. Other titles such as the Democracy series emphasize these points.





<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2019/12/politik08-buffed.png" alt = "The Democracy series puts the citizens at the center of the gameplay. We have to try to maintain order through legislative enactments and strategic decisions.

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The Democracy series puts the citizens in the center of the gameplay. We must try to maintain order through legislative and strategic decisions.


Source: Moby Games

This War of Mine (2014), on the other hand, is noteworthy for several reasons: The game of 11 bit studios focuses on the war from the point of view of civilians and addresses issues such as hunger, cold, fear and other hardships. The continually interspersed moral decisions make it an enormously intense and important game of the recent past. The same applies to Papers, Please from 2013, in which we assume the role of a border official in a totalitarian state and are repeatedly confronted with difficult situations. Despite these controversial topics, both works are astonishingly popular – and prove that even "uncomfortable" games can have their place in this industry.

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Papers Please: Border control skill in hands-on video

Now, of course, the initial question arises again: Do games have to be political? We think: Of course not, but most of them are already. Because they spring from the creative spirit of the developers, some of their beliefs flow into it. Regardless of whether it alludes to the current zeitgeist, the use of political ideologues or satirical humor – politics and everything related to it in the broadest sense plays an important role in a performing medium such as video and computer games.

This was also confirmed in 2017 by Neil Druckmann, Vice President and Creative Director of Naughty Dog, regarding political motifs in The Last of Us and the 2020 successor. When a fan asked him via Twitter to leave political views out of the game (the tweet has now been deleted), Druckmann countered:

"No, I can't. Authors work on the basis of their own worldview. The end of The Last Us was largely inspired by my 'personal politics'."

We summarize: Games serve much more than just simple escapism. Like books and films, they are forms of artistic representation. As such, however, their creators should also take a stronger stance and speak freely about what inspired them to present the listed motifs or characters in the manner in which it ultimately happened. At the same time, players have to learn to live with different political motives as well as with the freedom of art of the developers and do not climb the barricades at every opportunity if something does not suit them. Perhaps this process of finding takes a little time and maturity on both sides.

US developer Naughty Dog occasionally faced headwinds for the conception of The Last Of Us. Vice President Neil Druckmann, however, insists on the freedom of art of developers and believes that political views have their place in games. (1) (Source: Moby Games)

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