Are Video Games Turning Liberals Into Virtual Conservatives?

Are Video Games Turning Liberals Into Virtual Conservatives?

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.”

Moral Combat [The American Prospect via KillScreenMag’s Twitter]


  • And sometimes it can be fun to steer yourself away from where the game points you. Try a pacifist run in your next western RPG or FPS. The challenge of it is great.

  • Games like Mass Effect definitely “steer” you towards one path or the other. Being a neutral actor almost punishes you as it leave you unable to make a choice – any choice – in critical moments.

  • Isn’t the premise of the MW2 campaign about how pissed off the American people were about the war in MW1 that they took on a much more passive/liberal position? So that a rogue (conservative) general staged an event to force support for the war and restart the conflict? And he was the villain!

    I’m baffled why people draw the line where conservatives are aggressive and war-mongering, whereas liberals are passive and appeasing. Being a Liberal merely means you support individual rights, it thus also entails support for anything that protects these rights (up to, and including war). Was the War for Independence based on exclusively conservative ideals? Of course not! Just because you’re a liberal doesn’t make you a fence-sitter, nor does it mean you’re unable or unwilling to fight for your rights.

    It’s not as black/white in life as it is in videogames. Sure, it makes more financial sense in Sim City to bulldoze government housing than dole welfare, but does it have any real-world repercussions? No. In fact, isn’t the ideal Sim City a sort of Logan’s Run set-up where people are culled once they reach a certain age, to maximise efficiency? It might earn you more stats in a game, but it certainly isn’t right, or a place any of us would want to live.

  • Hmm, my fastest Civ V games have all been cultural or science victories – usually coming in before even the year 2000. If I decide to chase a military victory, or space race, I’ll either scrape in with a number of turns left that I could count on my fingers, or lose horribly. At the risk of sounding too conservative, it sounds as though Ms Potts is seeing what she wants to see whether it’s there or not – although it seems a lot of the comments on the article seem to reflect this opinion as well.

  • I’ve been playing Fallout 3 lately, and I’ve had the problem that there’s no polite way to turn people down or otherwise. It’s like the behavioral spectrum has three general classifications: Stirling messianic, rude asshole, or sociopath.

    As an aftermath, it just makes the bones of the game too visible: I see a rare option that I would normally be comfortable choosing as a speech option, but then avoid it because it appears to be occupying the “rude asshole” slot.

  • I find this article bewildering.

    Entertainment for its own sake is entertainment. Not everything has a political overtone. Bombing cities in Civilization doesn’t turn you into a conservative warmonger, even if that is the best way to win a game.

    There’s a clear separation between one’s own worldview and the actions we can do, or are allowed to do, in video games. Yes, war-gaming is more interesting than role-playing diplomacy – that doesn’t mean game designers are a cabal of neo-conservatives.

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