Few members of the gaming community are as well respected on the journalism side as Mr Biffo, the man behind most of Digitiser, so when he started getting dogpiled by the usual crowd of over-opinionated men (and we all know who I’m talking about here, whether we like it or not) I got a bit annoyed. They are angry at Mr Biffo because he mentioned that “Mario saves Peach” is a bit on the tired side as far as gaming plots go. He’s right, it is tired – Mario has been doing it for 30 years now – but these guys don’t like to hear him say that.
For them, pointing out that it’s time to shake things up a bit in the Mario storyline department is apparently “political”. Apparently forcing politics into games is wrong. Here’s the thing though: games have always been political. Always. In addition, since I’m a gamer and a politician, I feel this argument is right in my wheelhouse; so I’m going to weigh in.
Games Have Always Been Political
The first video game ever created, Spacewar!, arrived in 1962. It was about war, which anyone who knows anything about politics (or war) will tell you is an inherently political thing. Back during the first console generation we had a brief reprieve from politics in games because back then gaming was basically Pong and variants thereof, but after that it’s been politics aplenty. Let’s take a look at a few choice titles!
It’s hard to argue that an invasion isn’t a political thing. Aliens are coming, we’d better shoot them so they stop coming. Yay, it’s our old friends war and politics again. They’re back in the game like renegade masters, or whatever that song is about. I don’t actually know, I’m deaf and the words are hard to make out. Nevertheless, politics in games!
Not only is this clearly political because of its nature as a demonstration of how games could “appeal” to adults (although if you find rape as a game mechanic enjoyable, I’m not sure you qualify as an adult) but it’s also using rape as a tool of warfare. It’s a political game, albeit a disgusting one.
Wanted: Monty Mole
A game about the 1984 Miners’ Strike? In which the main character breaks through a picket line to collect coal? Political game! Really good platformer, too. If you haven’t played Wanted: Monty Mole, go and play it now. Seriously. Stop reading this and play it.
Yes, Prime Minister
A game about being the Prime Minister of United Kingdom. If that’s not a political game to you, I don’t know what will be.
Call of Duty (any of them)
A game about our good old friends, war and politics. From the very beginning, these have been political games because war is political. They even use both historical political wars and riffs on modern political issues to create their storylines.
Do I even have to explain this one? Chess has been used to teach military strategy since before any of us were born. It’s a political game, and all its video game versions are equally political.
The Total War series
I can stop wars using diplomacy? If I marry my monarch’s children into other dynastic families, it will help me win? Political game!
You literally run a country. It’s a political game.
Assault on Port Stanley
A game based on the Falklands War; thus seeing a (welcome?) return of our old friends, war and politics in gaming.
See above. There were a lot of games based on the Falklands War in the early 8-bit home computer days; probably because it was the most recent conflict that people could make games about.
See above, only this time for the Gulf War. You are literally out to depose a dictator. War and politics in gaming.
What Am I Getting At Here?
I could continue on with this exercise but I won’t. My point here is to say that games have always been political, and I think I’ve made that point sufficiently by now. Here’s the kicker, though: most of the time, the people complaining about the politicisation of gaming haven’t noticed any of these political themes in their games. They don’t see it because the politics fits with their world view. It’s invisible to them because to them it’s just how the world is.
There’s nothing wrong with that, absolutely nothing. The problem, as far as they are concerned, is that now not all games have invisible politics. Now they are suddenly seeing games that fit with other people’s world views. It was going to happen sooner or later, because it always does. After a while, it’s not just one group of people making things any more; so the people who were already there and enjoying what they were being provided with will, naturally, feel like their “space” is being “invaded” (sorry, sorry – I had to).
The thing is, it’s not being invaded. The space these guys occupied is still the same as it always was. What’s happened is that gaming as a space has expanded, because new games for new people are being made. I can understand why it looks like the size is shrinking from the point of view of those who are complaining, however. When you’re used to everything being for you, suddenly finding that some things now aren’t for you will feel like something is being taken away, even when the amount you’re getting is verifiably still the same. As a percentage, “not everything” is less than “everything” and it’s going to feel like less even if it’s still the same amount (or more, as the case may be) than the “everything” that was there before.
It still doesn’t make it okay to attack people, however. Nothing ever does. Just enjoy your games, guys. Nobody is taking them away from you.
And let’s face it, if Nintendo does decide that next time Mario does something other than rescue Peach, would that be a bad thing? It’s Nintendo, we all know it’s going to be good either way. Maybe changing the formula will bring something new and cool to the party? It’s got to be worth a try.