Video games and politics: Two topics I would not usually put together. One of them involves backstabbing, lying, bribery and false promises. The other one you do all the above, but on the couch while playing on a console. I did not think about video games and politics influencing each other. However, American businessman Palmer Luckey would maybe disagree with me.
Not in the sense that the Oculus Rift is suddenly going to become a political platform, with messages such as "Vote Republican!" flashing on the screen before you play a game. That would be very intrusive and slightly odd. However, Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR and designer of the Oculus Rift, has decided that it is time to weigh in on the political debacle that is happening in the US — do you vote Donald Trump or do you vote Hillary Clinton?
The Battle Across The Pond
As someone who is British, all I really know about the race to the White House is that the Republican candidate is Trump, who mainly wants to build a wall around America (which he won't pay for; let the Mexicans do it!). He is up against the Democrat candidate Clinton, who was ill at one point and refused to tell anyone. So really, don't we need someone like Palmer Luckey guiding us, telling us who to vote for? Possibly, just not in the way he's done it.
It turned out that Luckey has been secretly funding memes that support Donald Trump, including an organization called Nimble America, which claims to be a "social welfare 501(c)4 nonprofit" that is pro-Trump. However, Nimble America doesn't just post funny memes of cats and then stamp "vote Trump" across said meme. It specializes in shitposting, which the organization is more than proud to boast about. It claims that its aim is to show the power of memes and Nimble is strong believer that shitposting is the way in which Trump could win the election (NB: the group is doing it on its own; it does not have not have any association with the Republican Party or with Trump, apparently).
I find it slightly odd that Luckey has decided to find a political group that believes Donald Trump can win his election through memes, but hey, he has the right to have his say and use his money the way he wants to. However, this got me thinking about the relationship between video games and politics, and to what certain extent they have an involvement with each other.
If EA Voted Democrat, Would It Make A Difference?
It's no secret that a lot of the big media companies have heavily influences and biases on the political world. You only have to click onto the Fox News Channel to see a Republican outlet heavily tout for a Republican future. Over here in the UK, you look more toward newspapers and who they have allegiances to. It can even make national headlines when a newspaper changes its political allegiance.
So if media outlets such as newspapers and news channels, why can't video games? They are a growing part of the entertainment industry, they are a big part of people's lives, especially young people, who are one of the least politically engaged age groups. If EA came out and said that, as a company, it was going to vote Democrat, would that make a difference? Do we really need to know?
What video games already do really well is base their games around political ideas. A key game that comes to my mind is BioShock and BioShock: Infinite. Bioshock bases its political ideology around capitalism; the idea that you are entitled to the money you earn and should not be made to give your money to others. Bioshock: Infinite goes down a slightly different route. It aims for a secular society with no state religion, and does not prosecute on religious grounds. However, both equally showed the negative side of these political ideologies. In BioShock, you see that capitalism leads to greed, an individualistic society in which everyone eventually turns on each other. In Bioshock: Infinite, having no official religion leads society to perceiving Comstock as more than a God, and society is prejudiced toward any person who is not white, leading to a race-based revolution.
Game developer 2K did not shove political ideology down gamers' throats, rather, it based its ideas around different types of societies and how extreme ideas can create a dystopian future. I found BioShock to be one of the most heavily political games and, mixed in with the shooter and horror aspect, really made for a fantastic game.
Yet, it's not just BioShock that is based around politics. Papers, Please may at first play just seem like a game about checking permits and being picky, but it goes slightly deeper. The backstory is about political friendships, prejudice toward different people and nations, being unsettled in your own country, and getting a job just to be able to survive. All of the Assassin's Creeds have been based around political unease during history, you can even perceive the Assassins and the Templars as two different political parties, each with different ideologies on how society should be.
You can even go further and look at games such as This War of Mine, which goes slightly further than just politics. This is about when political barriers break down and all that a country is left with is conflict. Taken from the point of view of normal civilians just trying to survive, it is truly a game you should play if you want to witness the terrible side of war.
Video games do not just look at political ideologies and base their games around them — they are games based on politics itself. You can go for a game that is more cartoonish and play The Political Machine 2016, a free online game in which you can campaign, try to raise money, and have very extreme political views in your race to the White House. It's not fully on representative, but it is a bit of fun.
Check out the trailer below:
If you want to be a little bit more serious, you can play Democracy 3, a game that looks like the most petrifying flow chart in the world. It's about trying to keep a country afloat, working out from where to take funds to put elsewhere, introducing different policies — and ultimately learning that you really cannot please everyone. It is so complex, goes into such detail, and it really is a game that can leave you feeling daunted at first, yet with a little more appreciation for what it takes to run a nation.
Entertainment Or Holding Up A Mirror?
So while there is no debating that video games are a platform that interprets politics for entertainment, gaming companies have always been good at looking at the extremes society can go to and placing them within our games. However, does this have a real impact on our political view? To a certain extent it does, and can reveal new ideas to gamers while working as a tool for reflecting society. And those ideas include politics.
It would be naive to assume we are not influenced by our surroundings, so to a certain extent video games do have an impact upon politics. However, it is not in an outright manner, with companies and employees coming out and telling us to vote for a certain party. This is why Luckey has made it into the news. it's been one of a few major instances in which a heavyweight from the video games industry has shown their political allegiance. It seems to me that Luckey could influence others to vote for Trump if he wants to — it's just that the way he is doing it is hardly putting his best foot forward.
Politics is important. It shapes our society and our opinions. But video games are also an important aspect of society. The two married together is not the craziest of couplings. Video games have the power to show us how society works, how politics works, and how we could make a small influence within our world.
I can see a link between video games and politics, but it seems to me that video games are far more of an influence on gamers than politicians are. Could this make a difference to our future? Possibly. It seems to me, however, that Palmer Luckey could be the start of influential people within video games stating their opinion, and that could be really interesting for the future of political voting.
Do you think the gaming industry getting political will affect your view on who you want governing you? Let me know in the comments section.