I have a policy on this site that I do not discuss politics, sex, religion or drugs. I call this “PSRD”. I do this because these subjects have become incredibly divisive (especially politics) and I don’t want people getting into stock flamewars in my comments over subjects that have already been argued to death and back.
On the other hand…I had a bit of an epiphany over the weekend about games that have an overt political slant and I’d really like to talk about it. And it does feel weird to not be able to talk about whatever I want on my own blog. I know that a lot of people have multiple blogs for different subjects, but I’m honestly far too lazy to set that up (and policing one blog is enough work already).
So I’m going to do what James Lileks does and warn you.
Warning. If you continue reading, you might find out something about my political views that you do not like. Thus, if you want to continue to like me, you should not continue reading. Should you ignore this warning and continue to read and then decide that you no longer like me, please flame me through email rather than with a comment. Flame comments will be deleted.
Last chance to stop reading and not be offended by my political bias.
Okay. Over the weekend I was doing some “history of gaming” research and I was reminded of the Oddworld series of games. Now, I’d never really liked the Oddworld games; I felt they were artistically brilliant but the gameplay was primitive. But it wasn’t until I watched a GDC presentation by Lorne Lanning that I started to actively hate them.
That presentation (which, unfortunately, Gamasutra no longer hosts) was ostensibly about producing games. But what Lanning actually delivered was a liberal anti-government, anti-business diatribe. Which explained a lot to me about his games. There’s no such thing as a good business in Oddworld; all businesses are evil and the people who create and run them are willing to commit any atrocity to keep profits up. Destroying them is a brave and noble act.
And that reminded me of a couple other things. First, Jay is Games featured a whole bunch of “serious games” on his site right before the midterm elections last year – all of which had a liberal slant. (One of them was about how important NGOs are to developing countries, something a whole lot of people would dispute.) When called on it, he basically said “It’s my site, if you don’t like it stop reading.” Which of course is his right. And it’s my right to stop reading him – which I didn’t do. But I don’t read him as often as I used to, because now I feel I have to vet each link he provides to make sure there’s no message before I click. Because honestly, I don’t play games to get preached at.
Which made me start wondering…why is it that practically every game that has an overt political slant is liberal? Conservatives tend to dutifully scrub their own personal prejudices out of the games they make – witness The Political Machine, which is scrupulously nonpartisan even though its creator, Brad Wardell, is definitely conservative.
And then I remembered this nearly excellent article in The Guardian (England’s largest newspaper) about Ian Bell and David Braben, the creators of Elite. Now, The Guardian is liberal to the core. At no point will a conservative viewpoint ever be approvingly presented in that publication. But I was shocked at the amount of bashing on Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher there was in an article that seemingly had nothing to do with politics.
And that’s when I realized that games that have an overt political bias are liberal because most of the common game mechanics are fundamentally conservative.
Take Elite itself. The two basic mechanics of Elite are “work to improve your lot through your own actions” and “if anyone tries to steal your hard-earned money, shoot them”. Both of these are conservative principles. Which doesn’t surprise me, I don’t think “wait for your next government stipend” would make for compelling gameplay.
Plus there was the fact that writing Elite made both Bell and Braben rich. You’re not supposed to be able to get rich in a socialist society, no matter how much value you provide to how many people. Thus, while the reporter was obligated to write about them because they’d made a game that had become world famous and inspired many other games, he felt the need to remind us how fundamentally Bad the whole situation was. He even made sure to note that Bell had become a good liberal now.
Unfortunately for the liberals, the most popular PC game in the world is also one of the most conservative. I’m talking about The Sims 2.
The Sims 2 is a fantastic game, but I’d deliberately not played it much because it is such a time sink – I think it’s the one game that sucks up time even better than RPGs. Megan has been playing it practically since it shipped, and when I was assigned to work on a Sims 2-based project here at work I finally could justify spending several hours with the game.
Just running a simple simulation of a household is enough to shatter a whole bunch of liberal delusions. One of the base scenarios in Sims 2 explicitly shows how difficult it is to raise a child as a single parent. Another makes it quite clear what adultery does to a household. Several show the consequences of having sex (or “making woohoo” as they put it in the Sims world) with a bunch of different people. The game does a great job of teaching the importance of setting good goals and working towards them. It even shows how important it is to choose a spouse well. Plus there’s the fact that getting ahead in Sims 2 requires a lot of work (even with cheat codes). It doesn’t preach; all it does is show the consequences. Which has certainly been enough to cause Megan to come to several useful conclusions.
And I love the fact that the user base of Sims 2 is evenly split between men and women.
In the end, propaganda is the enemy of art and I certainly wouldn’t call any of the liberal-slanted games I encountered “good” by any standard. So I guess I shouldn’t let it bother me.