It’s not often I use my weekly podium here on “A Piece of Our Minds” to go political. While the election was a peculiar case, nowadays I recognize that my area of “expertise” is in the world of video games, and this is a video game site, so even if 90% of my brain time these days are occupied with political matters, I’ll still need to stretch that remaining 10% out for video games, because my actual job and social life are apparently less important.
But I have a hunch, as the days and weeks pass us by, that the smooth boarder separating the political world and the entertainment world are going to grow fuzzier than ever before, and start bleeding into each other. Which is fine and natural, no art exists on an island and it hast to respond to simulation in the real world, but video games have always been rather… touch-and-go on the subject of spouting politics. Which, frankly, is becoming atypical: companies, actors, studios, and more are drawing lines in the sand all the time, and the only time I can really think our own industry was ever so outspoken regarding politics was when SOPA and PIPA were tumbling down the pipeline in 2012, and Brown v. the Entertainment Merchants Association, which was settled the year earlier.
Otherwise, they tend to keep their opinions to themselves.
It’s hard not to see why. Political parties are becoming the new age religion, with people’s faith in one political movement or another causing them to lash out, sometimes even violently, at each other. And for gamers, who have a troubling history with inappropriate outspokenness, companies have every reason to want to skirt the sidelines. That’s part of the reason I ultimately like EA, for better or for worse, because while other companies were all very flirty with the subject, EA was one of the few who flat-out supported gay rights and worked to make their games more inclusive, although that is the exception more than the rule.
So with fear of both parties staring them down, it’s only logical for an entertainment medium to hesitate before picking sides, but it’s also a sign of our immaturity as an industry. We’ve long since worked past the notion that games are “for kids”, but we’ve still got a rather childish mentality when it comes to stepping up and being active in the real world like adults. Movies, books, and music are political all the time. Directors and actors, even studios will speak up and make political points. You’d be hard-pressed to find a game that makes an explicit political point, or hard-lines on an agenda. Some would say that’s good for inclusivity, and that’s true, but babies are also universally adored, by and large… and babies are about as toothless as they come.
In fact, the more I think about it, I think the only real hard-line political stance you see gaming takes is regarding class warfare and inequality, but that’s kind of a cop-out: we all feel like the disenfranchised masses, so saying “there’s inequality in the world and it’s screwing you over” is something that like, 99% of the population can relate too, figuring themselves the victims, even as they plug away on a monolithic PC gaming rig that costs more than what some families make in half a year.
But I digress. That may have been the way of things in the past, but times are changing, and while we’re still a far cry from the most politically divisive era in American history, it’s still becoming increasingly and worryingly prevalent through all facets of our lives. Talk shows that used to talk about celebrities and pop news have gotten neck-deep in politics. Facebook feeds are becoming dominated with chats, images, and arguments on both ends of the spectrum. Families are being divided, not literally, but figuratively, as people grapple with which American dream they believe is the true one.
The notion that the gaming medium can somehow sit on the sidelines and remain somehow above it all is laughable. The notion that the people most ingrained with in the industry, journalists and commentators and developers and publishers, could somehow avoid talking about the political climate as if it doesn’t somehow impact our preferred medium is ridiculous. As the voices outside gaming grow louder, they’re going to be heard no matter how many walls we try to put around ourselves.
To not talk about the political environment in some capacity during this tumultuous time isn’t political neutrality: you’d have to actively work to make it happen. You cannot be passively ignorant of the political climate, you have to be actively seeking to remain neutral, and that is not unbiased journalism.
And choosing to remain neutral is, at the end of the day, a vote for the status quo. It is, in effect, choosing a side.
Proof of this was earlier this week, when the Entertainment Software Association, the lobbying group who represents the games industry on capitol hill (and who fell out of favor when they controversially supported SOPA and PIPA), actually issued a statement regarding the controversial measure passed by the white house regarding a lockdown of refugees and travelers coming from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The statement reads, in full:
“The Entertainment Software Association urges the White House to exercise caution with regard to vital immigration and foreign worker programs. As a leading force in technology and exporter of entertainment, the U.S. video game industry thrives on the contributions of innovators and storytellers from around the world. While recognizing that enhancing national security and protecting our country’s citizens are critical goals, our companies rely on the skilled talent of U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and immigrants alike. Our nation’s actions and words should support their participation in the American economy.”
Measured, cautious words from a company that’s clearly unfamiliar with exercising itself in political arenas typically unrelated to their industry. However, despite its gentle approach, its intentions are clear: it’d be hard to confuse that as support for the Trump migrant and refugee ban.
Less measured words were shared by Insomniac games, creators of Sunset Overdrive and Ratchet & Clank, which as far as I can tell are the first game company to individually speak up regarding the issue. No surprise to learn that it’s strongly opposed to this measure.
So far, to the best of my knowledge, no other gaming company has publicly come forward to oppose the ban.
The games industry, like I said, is childish when it comes to facing the real world. And it’ll probably be many years more before we see triple-A developers embrace real, divisive political agenda as a possible subject for discussion within the narrative of a game. But we’re living in an era where we have to grow up fast, because our silence can and will be used against us, if we do not speak.
Now this might be your nightmare scenario. There are those, many I’m sure, who likely feel that this runs counter to the escapism that video games are supposed to provide, that games have no place in political discourse and they’re failing as a refuge if every game maker, studio, and journalist somehow feels they need to get their opinions and voices heard. I apologize to those people, but I’m afraid that people wanting to somehow avoid getting their voice heard and their wishes represented in a representative democracy are people who are in the wrong of history. For too long, people have complained about America’s direction, but not done anything to stop it. Now, when it’s possibly too late, people are realizing that their actions and voices have value, but they’re at risk of losing their privilege of being heard if they do not exercise it.
Or, in another way.
It’s downright un-American to stay silent and complacent.
And as long as politics and political agendas are going to be effecting us, it’s only fair and proper that the industry be able to bite back, and affect them back. So when I say you can expect to see the lines between politics and gaming blur, that’s what I mean: as policy gets more invasive, more controlling, and more overbearing, you can expect more developers to take a stand and be defiant.
And look, you could be on the other side of this. You could be one of Trump’s most ardent supporters and call this the bleating whine of a beaten sheep. One thing is true, hypothetical reader: liberals like myself, we were beaten. We were trounced soundly, and you have every right to feel smug about that.
But don’t hold us in disdain if we, now the beaten party, choose to exercise the right given to us by the American constitution, the bedrock of our democracy, to complain about that loss. The right to complain and protest and whine, that privilege is what makes America great. And it’s a privilege you, yourself, probably exercised in the past eight years or so.
And everyone, be they individuals, game companies, or games journalists, have a right to express that, and they will. For as long as they can.
…not that I’m saying this is going to turn into a platform for my political views every week or anything, I’m just saying, ‘expect to see more politics crop up where appropriate and/or relevant’ kind of deal, yeah?