Politics in Gaming

With its first episode taking place two weeks after the 2016 presidential elections, its Trump references, and graphic representation of police brutality toward Latinos, Life is Strange 2 is one of the latest games to spark contentious debate about the role of politics in gaming. Surely, it will not be the last. With the release of every game, more socio-political issues are being explored; Deus Ex: Mankind Divided portrayed a world of cybernetic enhancements, Far Cry 5 posits a rural, anti-government American cult, and Detroit: Become Human hints on issues of domestic abuse and social justice.

Over the years, there has been a divisive reaction from gaming audiences about the mention of politics in games. Some find it interesting, while others feel it part of intentional propaganda that they did not sign up for. Meanwhile, gaming companies such as Ubisoft heavily iterate that none of their imagery is based on any real-world inference.

Historically, games have always been political. When developers or publishers say that their games are not political, they are ignoring the fact that gaming themes are drawn from real-world contexts. Video games are just a small part of a long history of gaming. From board games made by the suffragettes to The Division 2 that discussed the 2017 US government shutdown, nearly every game is a product of its society and politics of its time.

Many gamers would rather avoid the politics that come with it, remembering that their attachment to gaming comes from the need to escape reality. This camp of individuals argues that when someone labels something as “just a game” they are choosing to ignore the history behind what-could-be the game’s political themes.

Nevertheless, it is because games are so intertwined with politics today that it creates a general social awareness, consciously or unconsciously, among their audience, growing it into a billion-dollar industry that even politicians have taken an interest in. Politics is a multifaceted word that applies to any construct that aids people to live with one another and games, like politics, irrespective of whether they involve the US-Mexico border wall or the French Revolution, is built on the premise that we want to live together.

It is because we are more informed now than in the past that games are changing to be more political. With this knowledge comes the ability to form an opinion on political discourse and recognize when games allude to current affairs.

Irrespective of the idea that gaming companies try to sell, it is worth mentioning that not talking about something and being neutral is having a position. Thus, I appreciate some political content in video games such as that in Life is Strange 2. This is because it allows me to interact with material that I am not particularly used to and think about situations that I have not thought about prior. The game has motivated me to research ideas and portrayals represented within by talking to people outside my comfort zone and playtesting the game with other players to ensure that I do not hurt or misrepresent anyone.

Politics and gaming will continue to be part of an ongoing discussion as the state of our lives are always changing. If games continue to reflect real-world locations, social constructs, and political statements, then discussions within the gaming community will thereof be the fruit of those changes.


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Monique Santoso

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September 2021
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