Apolitical Video Games – Why Video Games are always Political
So earlier this month, I was reading an interview on IGN with Far Cry 6’s narrative director Navid Khavari. Most of the interview is your standard developer fluff piece talking about the new game and all the innovations they’re implementing.
However, one particular point of the interview was quite interesting to me. When discussing the research the team undertook when developing the game, Khavari states;
"Our story is political," Khavari began. "A story about a modern revolution must be. There are hard, relevant discussions in Far Cry 6 about the conditions that lead to the rise of fascism in a nation, the costs of imperialism, forced labour, the need for free-and-fair elections, LGBTQ+ rights, and more within the context of Yara, a fictional island in the Caribbean.”
When I first read this, I was quite impressed by the statement as earlier Far Cry games (as well as other Ubisoft properties) have always been quick to decry that they’re not political. It’s such a common occurrence that Kotaku writer Zack Zwiezen has posted a handy template for any future game announcements from Ubisoft.
The goodwill I had for the developers slowly melted away as I read a couple more articles and noticed that the interview on IGN was actually in response to the original interview that Khavari gave about the game.
History repeated itself once again in the original interview as Khavari talked about all the research they did for the game to make it authentic, especially the fact that they interviewed former guerrilla fighters from during the Cuban Revolution. Yeah, The Cuban Revolution - you know one of the most politically charged movements of the last century? Yeah, there’s nothing political about basing your game on this movement.
When Khavari’s interview with The Gamer’s Jade King was shared, as Rhiannon Bevan writes in her article, the main response from gamers and the gaming public was mixed but overall confused.
Scrolling through the tweet now, most of the responses are really confused and frustrated at why Ubisoft keeps claiming there’s nothing political while using elements and themes that are so politically charged.
Oh no, lest you forget Ubisoft have paraded the “Not Making a Political Statement” banner around when promoting a game so much that a legitimate gaming news site published an article ridiculing them for it.
The best example of this has to be the time Terry Spier, creative director of the developer studio Red Storm Entertainment, in an interview with Polygon wholly denied The Division 2 having any political statements whatsoever.
Never mind the fact the game is set in the heart of Washington DC where you are a member of a secret peacekeeping organisation activated to retake the Capitol building from a rogue militia, which seemed a bit far fetched when it was released but now seems more relevant than ever.
Never mind that The Division games series has Tom Clancy’s name slapped on the cover like a seal of freshness. Because Tom Clancy’s work weren’t political thrillers or anything like that.
Of course, we can just check out the games opening cinematic to see just how much of a non-political statement this game is making.
(c) Arekkz Gaming. Video courtesy of Arekkz Gaming via Youtube.
So yeah, that’s cleared up then. This game with an opening cinematic that implies that the only people that survived societal upheaval were those with guns clearly isn’t making a political statement.
Also let’s not forget The Division’s whole concept was about a pandemic breaking out in New York on Black Friday, a massive symbol of capitalism, from a virus planted on money but sure there’s no political statement there at all.
Of course, Ubisoft isn’t the only company that does this, just like they’re not the only company to mishandle sexual assault claims and having overpaid executives promoting toxic work culture while their developers struggle to make ends meet.
Quantic Dreams developer and all-around uh… troubled person David Cage is also guilty of this. Cage spent the majority of E3 back in 2017 convincing people that his quick time-filled mess of a game Detroit: Become Human is not political while showing off gameplay full of thematic allusions to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and other revolutions of history.
In a Kotaku interview from back in 2017 to coincide with the release of Detroit, Cage is quoted as stating the following;
“They’re [the androids in the game] discovering emotions and wanting to be free. If people want to see parallels with this or that, that’s fine with me. But my story’s about androids who want to be free.”
Now, Mr Cage, it’s all well and good saying your story is only about one specific thing but that’s not how your audience is going to interpret it. Audiences are going to interpret political messages and themes from your work when you use politically charged imagery.
You can’t have the capitol building, a major symbol of democracy in the eyes of America, being under attack from a rogue military faction or have an oppressed group of people or androids rising to fight for their rights and still decree that it’s not political. It’s just like you’re trying to have your cake and fuck it too.
Sitting back, crossing your arms, and refusing to even hint that you’re saying something to avoid turning people off your game is an incredibly naïve and shallow action. It stops people from entering into more engaging and nuanced discussions instead of the “This game’s political” “No it’s not” mudslinging arguments that lead nowhere.
Oh, and just to be clear, Cage ended up clarifying in a separate interview saying that the game is;
“I think it's really a game about us. Humans. It's about what it means to be human. It's about identity. It's about civil rights.”
So, the story is about androids and nothing else, but it’s also about humans and civil rights and all the political, societal and historical baggage packed into all those issues.
A few people reading this may be saying who cares and to leave politics out of their games. To that, I say there is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to politics because politics seeps into every single facet of society and gaming is no exception no matter how much we wish that wasn’t the case.
It also stops developers from being open to tackling interesting topics for fear of alienating potential customers and instead end up making the equivalent of wallpaper paste. It’s bland and is always to the detriment of the game itself. Looking at the majority of Ubisoft’s current stable of games fits into this category to a T.
In the end, it’s just frustrating for most of the video game audience. We know when you’re talking out of your arse video games industry and I think it’s about time you acknowledge it.
What do you think about this issue? Are you excited about Far Cry 6? Let me know in the comments down below.
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