The Fallacy Of 'Keep Your Politics Out Of My Video Games'

It can often feel as though some people who like video games want to have it both ways: They want games to be taken seriously and acknowledged as an exciting artistic medium, but the moment someone critiques a game's politics they respond, as if cued by an invisible conductor: "It's just a game! Stop taking it so seriously!"

It's a conflict that's likely familiar to anyone who cares about and engages in the broader video game discussion. And while most of us have figured out the fallacy evidenced by those two incompatible mindsets -- heck, we've argued similar points here, from time to time -- I still liked this video from Errant Signal video essayist Christopher Franklin breaking it all down.

In the video, he looks at the disconnect that still runs through the core of a lot of mainstream games discussion while rightly pointing out how politics already infuse a ton of mainstream games, from BioShock Infinite and GTA V to Civilisation and SimCity. It's a useful encapsulation of the issue, particularly for those who might not be as familiar with it as those of us who hunker down in the rhetorical trenches every day.

You can read a full transcript here, and check out Franklin's other video essays on his YouTube channel.


Comments

    My problem with politics in games is the same as politics in any narative medium: when it serves or augments the plot it's fine, even welcomed. When it overrides the plot, when it becomes obnoxious, heavy-handed, condesenting and little more than shouting "RACISM BAD! SEXISM BAD! IMPERIALISM BAD!" then it really gets my goat.

    And sadly, the politics in most video games, and by extention games journalism, falls into the second category.

    There are two things you should never discuss in polite society; politics and religion. The reason for this? They only make people more stupid and people already need all the help they can get.

    That said there's nothing really wrong with a person airing their political views of a game, impolite maybe, but not wrong. So why do idiots (especially those with strong opinions who can't stomach being opposed) insist on taking it all so personally?

    I think a lot of the issues stem from this one fact: most gamers aren't willing to engage in realistic and civilized discussions about games because we emotionally attach ourselves to the game, often before it's even released. We see discussions of "Sexism", "Racism", and anything that shows opinions that might lean against the game, and we take it incredibly personally and choose to get defensive straight off the bat.

    So many of us do it, and I know for a fact I do it too. I just did it right now with this video, as I felt myself starting to get frustrated when it seemed like Chris Franklin was talking badly about about some of my favourite games. I don't want people to call these games sexist or racist because I love these games, and I don't think I am sexist or racist. I've aligned myself with these games, so any attack on them feels like an attack on my own character, but that assumption is entirely my own. The problem is that for most of us it's difficult to remember to step back from that way of thinking. We need to remember that we are allowed to enjoy and appreciate games while still being able to discuss what they do which we agree or disagree with. In fact, if we want games as a medium to grow and move forward, then we NEED to start doing that.

    It doesn't mean that we ban any games that don't hold up to the highest standards we wish gaming to achieve, as there's obviously a long way to go. Still, there's no reason why we can't discuss a games cultural miss-steps openly while still appreciating what it does right, as doing so may mean that the next generation of games may be able to learn from the discussion, and hopefully help making our gaming experiences even better in the future.

    Last edited 17/10/13 10:56 am

      Very well thought out response. Like any other form of media, art or entertainment, we can still enjoy games whilst critically engaging in analysis of what may be some of their flaws. Like you said, hopefully this will be a way of developing a better gaming experience in the future.

    I'm going to dot-point criticize, because otherwise i will just wall-o-text.

    A. People can disagree within a community or members of a group can hold different and contradictory positions, but this does not mean that the relative positions are neutralized or that it is a fallacy. If we're following the art metaphor, the exact same thing happens in the 'art for arts sake' vs 'art as politics' debates. What you're essentially saying is that 'well Guernica exists so the argument is a fallacy and art as politics wins'.

    B. I think that the main issue the majority take is not the discussion of politics but rather the sophomore-literature-studies style of inferring ones preferred political issue into anything they can. It gets tedious. Congrats, you've interpreted 'ballad of a thin man' to be about militant black politics. That doesn't mean it's required discussion whenever people listen to highway 61 revisited.

    C. There is, I think, a justifiable argument that politicizing gaming or using games as a propaganda platform shouldn't be advocated. I wouldn't take it away from anyone, but jumping on the social justice bandwagon using every artistic medium isn't my thing.

    Last edited 17/10/13 1:54 pm

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