“Get your politics out of my games.” It’s a mantra I have heard a million times whenever anyone posts something about gender, sexuality, race, religion, government, or even simple morals and ethics in games. The idea behind this mantra is that games aren’t a place to be discussing these issues. All they are, are diversions, a simple way to have a good time and not think about much. So we all should stop talking about how games effect the social order and just enjoy scoring a headshot from across the map or landing a 100 hit combo.
Except, I can’t get my politics out of your games, and neither can anyone for that matter, for a few simple reasons.
1) They Aren’t Just Your Games
Saying “get your politics out of my games” assumes a sort of “ownership” of gaming in general. The general assumption is that gaming is the territory of the “hardcore” gamer, and that real hardcore gamers care more about gameplay than they do politics.
Except, this assumption is flawed on multiple levels. First of all, when things exist in the public space they belong to everyone. You wouldn’t say that only hardcore movie goers that see all the midnight releases can criticize the latest summer blockbuster, would you? Casual gamers are capable of having an opinion about how a game makes them feel just as much as pros are.
But aside from that, pro gamers have stressed their political opinions in the past. The pro fighting game community made an active effort to replace “get raped” with “get bodied” because of how problematic the word rape is. Pro gamers have run charity drives to raise money for breast cancer research, Doctors Without Borders, Child’s Play, and several other charities. Several game developers, publishers, and researchers have just signed an open letter to the gaming community asking for the toxic behavior and harassment in the gaming community to end. All of these are political statements.
Finally, most of the people who claim ownership of the gaming community aren’t even pro or hardcore gamers themselves. The loudest and most toxic complaints from the gaming community tend to be from the frothing intermediate masses who love to look down on people they don’t consider “gamers.” However, the vast majority of these people would get crushed in a professional match against the world’s greatest gamers, who, as I said before, have made political statements in the past, but also tend to have to be on their best behavior on a pretty regular basis because they are in front of cameras so much.
2) Games Are Important
Something strikes me as inherently hypocritical about the statement “get your politics out of my games.” As I said before, the assumption made in this statement, is that games just aren’t important enough to be political. They aren’t making any statement. They are just cool things to have fun with.
But, that’s not how the gaming community treats games the majority of the time. The same people who belittle the impact games have on us when talking about politics, rally behind games whenever a crotchety critic says games can never be art, or a political pundit says that games are murder simulations. Whenever someone seeks to insult gaming as a medium, we as a gaming community come together and say that gaming should be respected as an art and a sport. We cite instances of games that made us cry, games that have burgeoning eSports industries surrounding them, and yes, games that make political statements.
I’m not so sure that we, as a gaming community, get to have our cake and eat it too here. Gaming can’t be this awesome and respectable thing when it helps you build legitimacy and a completely useless distraction when it disagrees with your political views… or perhaps your apolitical ones.
I’d posit that no one truly believes games aren’t important. If a misunderstanding parent barges into your room and says, “Stop wasting time with those games” the reaction is never, “Yeah, these games are a waste of time! I’m going to go be a productive member of society.” It’s always, “YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND MOM!” I’d hazard a guess that the whiney emo response is, more or less, correct. We don’t embrace games as a waste of time because they aren’t a waste of time.
We don’t jump at the opportunity to say, “This thing I am doing means nothing” because it doesn’t. It means something to us. It’s important enough that speed runners devote huge chunks of their life to mastering a game, which allows pro gamers to make salaries on their skills alone, and that game developers, indie and AAA alike, are constantly trying to find ways to push the barrier of what a game means. Anything that important is also important enough to be political.
3) Everything Is Political
Perhaps most importantly, the idea that you can keep politics out of something is just kind of silly. Politics, in this case, are just statements of what people believe and want, statements of personal views. Someone who campaigns for more equal representation of women in games simply wants to see that. They believe that is the right thing to do. They are making a statement.
But the thing is, everything makes a statement. Let’s say it’s the Fourth of July, and Chips Ahoy runs a line of cookies with red white and blue candies in them for a limited time. That’s marketing, sure, but it’s also a political statement. It’s an assumption that the colors of the flag will make people feel good inside, because most people in America support their country, especially on The Fourth of July. That is political.
OK, so a lot of you are probably looking at that as a cheap shot, because duh, the American Flag is political. However, you don’t have to be overtly political to be making a statement. The very fact that chocolate chip cookies exist is making a statement. That statement is that people love chocolate! That’s why you see more chocolate cookies and less fish flavored ones.
The same holds true for games. If a game is filled with shallow scantily clad women, the designers are saying “gamers will like this.” That’s the business that developers and publishers are in, making people like games. Similarly, if they omit a feature, ANY feature, they are saying “gamers won’t care about this” because it either doesn’t have a place in your game, or it’s just not important enough to the gaming populace to spend time and money on during development. That’s not all that big of a deal when you, say, don’t let characters in Assassin’s Creed customize their own personal boxer shorts or let them climb into giant steampunk clown robots, but it is kind of a big deal when you, say, don’t let them make a female character. The statement is “gamers don’t care enough about playing as female characters.”
The thing is, that’s just not true, as evidenced by how the internet blew up after the Assassin’s Creed Unity reveal at E3. There are very obviously people who care about playing as female Assassin’s Creed characters. There are very obviously people who care about playing as characters of color or of different sexual orientations. That’s why we keep writing things like this. It’s what we want to see out of gaming.
Now maybe you don’t care what we want, or what anyone other than yourself wants. Sure! Go ahead. You are perfectly within your rights to make that your priority. But don’t act like games themselves elicit a non-political atmosphere. Remember, this is an industry, and it’s not the industry’s job to make just you happy. It’s the industry’s job to make all of us happy, and a good portion of us care about politics.
So I say, “Get Your Politics Into My Games!” game developers. Let’s see what statements you have to make.
Former Contributing Writer