“Politics in video games” is a phrase that many shy away from even uttering. To many, politics and gaming should be worlds that never collide. In reality, the two are often synonymous.
Politics in Video Games
Video games are an art form, one that has a story to tell with a message to deliver. In today’s society, the polarization of ideals has proved taxing among all walks of life. It has made people more insular inside their own communities of like-minded individuals. This results in closed-off minds unwilling to expand their point of view or embrace the sometimes controversial topics video games attempt to broach.
Diversity Done Well
Every great story has a meaningful message it wants to deliver. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for people to feel upset when stories become more progressive in nature. Let’s use The Last of Us Part II, for example. There are many different facets of the story that can be analyzed and debated.
However, some complaints are far more baseless than objective. A good starting place is Ellie’s sexuality. Naughty Dog made the story decision to have a lead female protagonist be openly bisexual.
Spoiler Warning for The Last of Us Part II.
In the opening scene, the player sees flashbacks of a shared kiss with Dina, Ellie’s love interest. Afterward, Dina and Ellie’s relationship blooms and is nurtured into a trusting and committed partnership. There were vocal fans who displayed dissatisfaction with this story choice. Claims of forcing liberal/LBTQ ideology ran rampant. These then were followed by claims that such things had no place in video games.
These same arguments were made for Lev, a character shown transitioning into a trans male. This, along with Abby’s muscular physique representing her obsession and hungering need for revenge. The Last of Us Part II excelled in creating characters who stray from the norm. Characters who are not flashy eye candy or adherent to traditional archetypes.
By subverting expectations, the story is made not only more powerful but more universal. Each of the story facets layer upon one another and help build the cohesive, brilliant story that The Last of Us Part II told. It also helps show how important representation and inclusivity are for gamers.
Social Change Through Video Games
Diversity, inclusivity, and representation are all seemingly buzz words when associated with a project. People may start to become desensitized to them. However, the people who push to make this happen are the real heroes behind the games we love so much. Gamers are as diverse as the games we play. Despite the majority of streamers you see at the top of Twitch charts or the protagonists that headline many games. Representation matters and people matter.
Last summer, the USA went through another tragedy of police brutality with the death of George Floyd. All around the world, the plight of Black people was heard and everyone stopped to listen. We saw major gaming networks like IGN, Gamespot, and others release statements of standing in solidarity with the Black community.
Even game studios, like Bungie and Infinity Ward, released statements in their games. Bungie even went on to stylize an emblem in the fashion of the Black Lives Matter movement. They also donated proceeds to Black Lives Matter and other organizations that battle racial injustice.
There were those in the gaming community who called this nothing more than a publicity stunt. Even if it was, does it matter? As a young African American male myself, it felt like my voice was heard. They may never understand what we go through. But they were willing to listen and stand side by side with our community. For that, I will always be grateful for the change last summer brought, and the awareness instilled in people worldwide.
A Look Back
In conclusion, politics and progressive stories have always been something ever-present in video games. Metroid‘s Samus Aran revolutionized the industry being the first playable heroine for video games in 1986. This subsequently inspired other great heroines. Lara Croft, Jill Valentine, Chun Li, Aloy, Ellie, to name a few.
Fallout 2 in 1998 took a tremendous risk allowing same-sex relations when it was still outlawed and widely frowned upon in America. Diversity options in a game’s character creator are still argued today (like Cyberpunk 2077). Video games are a gateway from reality; however, video games often present ideals of how humankind can aspire to be greater.
This is why social discussions and topics are important in video games. Despite vocal outcries, I hope video game developers, like Naughty Dog, will continue to create stories and characters that break the mold and give a voice to the voiceless.