Posted by: seanmalstrom | May 12, 2014

Email: When does a game become or not become political?

Hi Master Malstrom,
Been reading your latest posts, including those regarding Nintendo and complaints over Tamodachi (dunno how to spell it, sorry), and I agree with your general statement that most games shouldn’t try to be political.

Something I’m curious about is what your criteria is for a  game becoming political.  You mentioned how if Nintendo allowed gay dating (or whatever, I honestly don’t even know how the game works) in the game that it would cause controversy and people would protest.  Fair enough, but the game has caused controversy and people are protesting anyway.  It’s kind of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation: I don’t see a way to handle it without making a political statement of some kind, even if you’re not trying.

Is it simply a matter of the audience you’re serving?  You mentioned Grand Theft Auto being able to have extreme content because it’s a kind of counter-culture game; if Sony or Microsoft had ordered for the content to be toned down, would that have been a political move in your eyes?  Or, for a hypothetical example a bit closer to the original topic, there was a game about a drag queen mostly geared to appeal to gay folks and the like, but people outside the target audience started protesting and the developer caved to pressure and made the character an actual woman, would you consider that a political corruption?

Like I said, I’m curious because the way I see it there are certain things you really can’t be apolitical about, even if you try.

Master Scott (yes, I’m not straight-married, gay-married, or any other kind of married)


This is a great question. Johnny Carson of the Tonight Show was an extremely popular guy yet he did a ton of entertainment about politics. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, also does entertainment on politics yet he is highly polarized depending on who you talk to. What is the difference between the two? Johnny Carson did politics only when the political matter was settled. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, is trying to guide his viewers to a conclusion.

Look at the media of movies and TV shows. When the show writers or director is trying to push some political point, the audience groans. The purpose of entertainment is for the audience to have fun, not to sermonize them. It is also a frequent failing of novice writers to have their novels push a ‘point’ or ‘sermon’ in it. It’s simply bad entertainment.

No matter what point in history, there are always political matters that are undecided. Using the entertainment medium to push an undecided political matter as decided in a particular way is when the medium is being abused. No one cares about killing Nazis in video games because everyone agrees that Nazis are evil. But what if someone made a video game about Ukraine and Russia? That matter hasn’t been decided and would be correctly perceived as propaganda.

The real danger though will be people making things political that aren’t. The Tomogotchi (sp?) game wasn’t trying to make any social commentary (which Nintendo even stated). It’s just a silly little game. But the people upset about it are so ill humored, so unhappy in life, that they allowed a video game to hold such power over their life. Who does this? Who allows a video game to hold power over their lives? It is the hardcore gamers. Only the hardcore gamers allow games to symbolize their lives. Protesting Tomogotchi (sp?) is as ridiculous as protesting Super Mario Brothers because you’re not a pudgy Italian plumber.

People, who have no lives, are going to start crying over classic games because they will discover something in the classic game that will offend them. With how irrational people are becoming (which also explains the decline in the economy since people are the economy), the three classic arcade games I expect to see banned in their original incarnations are Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Frogger. Donkey Kong will be banned because Paulette is a blonde and doesn’t represent a diversity ideal. Pac-Man will be banned because it only glamorizes a heterosexual relationship. Frogger will be banned because the male frog jumps on female frogs and that is ‘depiction of rape’.

Notice the outrage when I pointed how those protesting the Tomogotchi (sp?) game are no-life hardcore gamers. They’re upset about an irrelevant part of a video game no one is going to buy anyway. You really have to be screwed up in the head to be that wound up about it. When they were young, their mommy would turn off the game console and tell them to go outside. Now, they waste their lives in video games or, worse, on gaming message forums absorbing complete garbage. I see myself as ‘Dr. Malstrom’ (if Luigi can be a doctor, so can I!) helping out by telling them firmly, “Time to step away from the computer and go get a real life.”

A video game should NEVER affect you in such a way. All you’re declaring to the world is that you are an overgrown child and that every hardcore gamer stereotype is right on the money.

Politics has as much to do with video games as politics has as much to do with the mattress you sleep on. Also, a video game cannot compromise with politics in it just like a plate of food cannot compromise with poison set in it. People putting politics in entertainment is just bad entertainment. Any video game developer caught doing it should be ostracized as being a ‘bad video game developer‘. No one wants political crap in their gaming.




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