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Now I don’t think it requires much effort to see how logically faulty such wishes can become. With such a nebulous definition of “politics” to consider, this inevitably severs a lot of inspiration developers take from the real world during the creative process that may not have been considered yet; and developers aren’t really automatons that can simply divorce themselves from taking in such inspirations either, as if there’s an on/off switch. But if the argument then morphs into keeping just a certain sliver of politics you’re bothered with (x) out of ‘your games,’ then it follows with asking this: who’s to say someone else won’t then demand another sliver you deem inoffensive (y) ALSO be kept out and on and on this goes ad infinitum ‘til the only thing left is a large vat of viewpoint-vanilla? To me: that reeks of a more damaging stagnation to this artistic medium than all the COD clones you can muster.
There’s also the blatant hypocrisy that can’t be ignored. When people dared to air socio-political criticisms about games before, common arguments often devolved down to telling those people to just not buy the games and/or make their own. Now—conveniently enough!—when some developers actually have more financial flexibility and creative opportunity to develop games and/or game storylines more in line with their viewpoints, kneejerk reactions about how SJW politics from Druckmann and others are sneaking into your games seems to be a common complaint that appears to receive no reprimand. From once taking a hardline stance for creative freedom when another slaughter-simulator was announced (19), which I believe was a justifiable response, to screeching about “politically correct, regressive” political persuasions from Blizzard just because they decided to announce Tracer was a lesbian (20)? Give me a break. That kind of attitude shows you’re interested in “creative freedom” with an asterisk applied.
I don’t want to insinuate most gaming enthusiasts are exhibiting this double standard, but my experience suggests it’s not some insignificant portion either. Regardless of numbers, the main point being creation ought to remain an open lane for any such political discussions; in fact, I figure an artist’s genuine challenges to your predisposed beliefs, especially on such crucial topics, ought to be beckoned rather than dismissed.
I guess part of what makes me post such a longwinded refutation to this no-politics-please wish comes back to the enjoyment of challenge, not just of mechanical difficulty but intellectual ferocity as well. The notion of games positing beliefs counter to my own, as done by books, movies, and songs since time immemorial is part of what fascinates me about this medium; which also extends to the in-depth criticisms OF said games that may also make me pause and reconsider x or y aspect of a game. Just as I have considered and deeply disagree with the notion of “safe spaces” on college campuses so too would I hate to see a similar outlook sinking into this expressive medium.
Another inspiration for this blog is in several of the most politically-charged games, identity politics or otherwise, of recent years affecting me in a number of ways. One such example would be Gone Home.
While I reviewed Gone Home mostly on its design and storytelling (21), I must admit it also put me in an uncomfortable position that could bear out in my personal life which hadn’t dawned on me before. You see the story wasn’t just some twist about Samantha being a lesbian; there’s also conflicts like her parents’ acceptance, with religious inclinations being a key factor in their dismissive attitude after she comes out. When considering some in my extended family are conservative-leaning Catholics, I’ve wondered if there’s the chance some of my cousins’ kids may experience a similarly disparaging treatment were they to come out. And since the game’s framing device is you playing Samantha’s sister it’s a way of both her, and the player, acquiring an understanding and sympathy of that complex experience. These kinds of contemplative afterthoughts wouldn’t have occurred had these developers stored away their ‘personal politics’ while making this game.
With all this said, does this mean every game and/or game review has to bring up politically-focused considerations? Of course not. There’s dozens upon dozens of great palette-cleansers that I’m a big fan of playing. It also doesn’t take much sleuthing through my own user-submitted content to see excitement in praising nuanced game design, story structure, visuals, and more. There’s so many avenues to explore and discuss that don’t even broach socio-political topics; but at the same time, whenever such conversations are had pouting over the very notion that someone’s bringing them up, or incorporating them into their work, makes you look like the same petulant child you depict your opponents of acting.
In closing, it can feel mind-numbing to see a certain collective within this medium’s fanbase so absurdly infatuated with the superficial trappings of maturity without displaying consideration of meaningful maturity. Hoping games are taken seriously in the broader culture yet yearning to dictate what those terms mean; as if there’s a way to be art with no strings attached. That’s not how it works. We can’t just clamor for the adulation of being an expressive medium capable of the same impact as film or books without also receiving a similar level of scrutiny. If that’s too much to ask then…it’s just going to be something lesser, eternally content with not carrying the same capacity as those other forms of artistic expression. I’m pretty adamant of where I stand on that notion; hopefully you feel the same.