Should Video Games Be Political?

Find out where the gaming populace stands when it comes to politics in video games. With the industry's impressive growth since its infant years, game designers have become more apt to tell stories of a political nature. Does this end up working in their favor or hampering them?

Should Video Games Be Political? Cover

As the gaming industry improves and progresses, the manner in which they tell their stories become more complex. Opportunities in experimental game genres and AAA resources allow more people to share their own stories, occasionally to the chagrin of their audience. Politics in gaming now-a-days isn’t terribly new; last year’s The Last of Us Part II was but one of many big-name games that aimed to portray a divisive story and/or themes. What do these games with a politically-inclusive nature do for the gaming audience as a whole? Deniers are certainly more vocal, but is it truly the minority? Find out how the data may stack against the grain.

The following is comprised of data collected through optional polls and viewer responses. What all was collected includes:

  • 1,293 respondents through eight questions.
  • Polls running between the beginning of February and the end of March 2021.
Info on the presence of politics in gaming.

Info on the presence of politics in gaming.

The following is information collected in more detailed form, going over every aspect of the graph listed above. Summarized information and some occasional discussion will also be present.

Talking Point – Should Games Incorporate Politics?

There are numerous reasons people will state for either such side. Pro, because “video games are art” and they should be allowed to communicate per the “artist’s” vision. Con, because like many aspects designed for entertainment, their sole purpose is to entertain, not educate. However you may see it, political involvement in the gaming-sphere remains incredibly divisive. Where do players stand in general?

Info involving politics in gaming.

Info involving politics in gaming.

When it comes down to it, players would prefer to stay away from the political messaging in games. It seems that rather than being told what the developers may think, they’d prefer to go about their own pace. Perhaps the more popular series owned by Nintendo, whether Mario or Animal Crossing, succeed so well because of it. Maybe that’s also why licensed sports games sell so well (despite the negative ratings).

Talking Point – Are Games Better or Worse With Politics?

On a similar vein, should games do decide to incorporate politics, how do they fare? Many games tend to stick to a pre-determined formula, though some end up being more narratively complex purposely. Some may even go the political route simply for the sake that it ends up more profitable. Does this end up being a bad choice given players’ hesitation with political games?

Info concerning whether games are better or worse with politics.

Info concerning whether games are better or worse with politics.

While a sizeable chunk of “no preference” answers may be surprising, the general response rings familiar to the prior consensus. With games focusing on politics, there may be some other aspects that are not as crucial. Gameplay could suffer, the aesthetic may suffer; whatever the situation, there’s cases to be made to simply refine anything other than harsh themes.

Talking Point – Do Game Companies Have an “Agenda”?

A common criticism for various game developers end up being their history of politically-charged titles. Dontnod Entertainment, known for the Life is Strange series, is one example of constantly producing titles that push the boundaries for what stories video games can tell. This consistency can oftentimes lead to players labeling them as having an “agenda,” wishing to influence their audience with their stories. Does the record show this to be the case?

Info about the prospect of game companies having an

Info about the prospect of game companies having an “agenda.”

While hard to nail down true evidence of the case, players seem to believe the “agenda” is alive and well. Such a reputation could have people refrain from giving their products a chance, maybe ever. However it may have arisen, once the reputation holds, it’s hard to shake it off.

Talking Point – All Politics, or Just Social Politics?

In the recent world, more focus has been drawn to inclusivity and representation than otherwise. Showcasing the stories of non-white, homosexual, transgender, and other types of generally unseen characters has become more commonplace. Their implementation has some crying foul, however. But whether this is just a part or the whole remains to be seen, so which is it?

Info about social politics in gaming's discourse.

Info about social politics in gaming’s discourse.

Should one combine “all” and “social” politics given these results, there would be sufficient enough data to assume the same atmosphere of political disinterest as showcased so far. However, it’s interesting to note the large chunk of those who don’t seem to care either way. More than anything, it seems the push for representation doesn’t seem to be the main point—it’s a part of the whole issue. Politics are politics, and general audiences don’t seem keen on having it in their games.

Talking Point – Do Strong Political Narratives Turn Off Players?

Circling back to The Last of Us Part II, a large part of its divisiveness came from its narrative. The collective backlash that came with it was historic in the gaming industry, the likes rarely seen before, even sparking policy changes with Metacritic. With such upheaval, would it be good to assume that similarly strong narratives would cause parallel reactions?

Info about strong political narratives in games.

Info about strong political narratives in games.

This is among the closest results seen thus far. While still in favor of a less political narrative, there suggests some sizeable amount of players who wouldn’t mind it. Perhaps the backlash of The Last of Us Part II was simply per its individual execution, rather than with its political nature. Or maybe it was both; who can say for sure?

Talking Point – Where Do Players Draw the Line With Politics in Games?

While it would be easy to assume it’s a “Yes or no” question, some may simply think there’s too much political tendencies in modern games. Rather than denying all politics, it could be that people would like to avoid the extremes. With that in mind, where exactly do people draw the line with politics in games?

Info about how much politics should be in games.

Info about how much politics should be in games.

Given these results, it’s hard to argue that people are just trying to avoid the extremes. Players voted that they’re willing to give a little political leeway, and even “somewhat” beat out “none.” The answer may lie in the potency, rather than the subject itself. If politics in gaming should exist, gamers may find it more appreciable if it wasn’t as prominent, rather than completely nonexistent.

Talking Point – Do Politics Break a Game’s “Escape” Value?

Much like any form of entertainment, many will gravitate towards it for the sake of getting away from it all. In a bad mood? Go play a game and distract yourself from the worries. However, the generally sobering nature of politics could end up detracting from the feel-good nature of playing a video game. Is this something consumers worry about?

Info about politics breaking the escape in games.

Info about politics breaking the escape in games.

Much like the rest of the results, this is indicative of the collective exhaustion with politics. Hard to get away when everything continues to pull one back into the real world. “Mindless fun” can be nice every once in a while, and many may still see games as just a means to have fun.

Talking Point – Will Games Only Be More Political in the Future?

With the current climate of gaming, there’s bound to be a number of politically active projects in play. AAA designers and particularly indie developers have breathed life into games as a means of artistic experimentation, and new games are released every day. With this context, is it safe to assume the trend will only travel upwards?

Info about political activity in the games industry.

Info about political activity in the games industry.

Players seem to think so, heavily so. The Last of Us was only the beginning, though even that was preceded by a fair number of politically charged games. However you may see the argument, there’s little doubt in players’ minds that the future will be a political one.

Are you experienced with political games? What do you think of these results? Let me know in the comments below!
“Politics" in Games & Morally Grey Characters | Play, Watch, Listen ep. 24

(Video by Alanah Pearce.)

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