Monica Potts a feminist graduate of an all-girls college that would never take her husband’s name or dream of ending her career to raise children. In the Sims 3 she’s a married mother that stays home with the kids.
In a fascinating article on The American Prospect, Potts explores the phenomenon of players like herself with liberal social leanings following the opposite path when entering the video game realm. Are video games unwittingly forcing an agenda on the player, or is the player simply playing the game in the most enjoyable way?
It more-than-likely depends on the games you’re playing.
In fact, all of the video games I play tend to have a decidedly anti-liberal tilt. From the seemingly innocuous Sims to more obviously hawkish games like Call of Duty, many video and computer games seem to have a built-in conservative worldview. After all, they have to sell in the heartland as well as on the coasts. It’s always difficult for liberals to figure out how much they should enjoy pop culture that contradicts their values.
Potts uses the example of the television show 24 to illustrate her point. Its portrayal and seeming promotion of torture is abhorrent to her liberal nature, but does that mean she needs to miss out on an entertaining drama in order to stand by her beliefs and ideals?
Video games are just the newest medium through which our social mores are expressed, and questioning whether they do so accurately and responsibly is a natural corollary to their ascendancy.
Potts calls other games into the discussion. Sim City’s portrayal of low-income housing as a haven for crime, producing low-cost workers that can be discarded once the player’s city has gained enough wealth, replaced with lofts and opera houses. Or Civilization, where the fastest path to victory is through military might.
The problem might not be with the games. As Potts points out, the Sims 3 is blissfully discrimination free, with an add-on that allows characters to go to university free of charge. Civilization can be won through diplomacy.
There are other options available; they’re just not nearly as entertaining.
I can opt to commit my resources to building trade alliances and public libraries, but I don’t have a choice about building an army to defend my cities against barbarian attacks. Once I have an army, I might as well use it to destroy my competitors. Waging war is the only way I’ve ever won the game. (It seems important to note that pulling off a “cultural” victory is extremely difficult.) The lesson: Getting results from liberal policies takes a tremendously long time. It’s also, frankly, much less fun to have a scripted dialogue with Catherine the Great than to watch a samurai fall to a pikeman’s ax.
For me this all boils down to one of the core properties of video games that draw so many people to them in the first place: They let you do things you otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t do. This works on a visceral level – I’d never kill a man, but I’ve killed millions of virtual men – or on a more social or political level. If we allowed our real-world morals and beliefs to guide our video game playing, that would make for some incredibly boring games.
Or maybe Potts is right. “Maybe video games also tease out the latent conservative in all of us.”