Jump to content
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  
BarefootPhilospher

Games and Politics

This topic is 2122 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

hey guys,

I'm currently conceptualizing a video game idea, but this post isn't intended to discuss the game design itself. Instead, because the game will openly be by intention, radically political in nature, I would like to canvass opinions whether people believe it is appropriate to develop an explicately political game, or whether gamers would consider it to be an invasion and intrusion into the gaming realm.

I don't mean political in the sense of championing one political cause or ideology over another. Rather it would take the form of challenging the basic assumptions that have become deeply in our cultural milieu, such as predominance of individual over society, selfishness over solidarity, competition over cooperation, accumulation over sharing, market over community....These elements are now considered to be fundamental truths and very rarely questioned in our society's public discourse. Video games are no exception.

Games are essentially rule based systems that allow the player the ability to interact within the games structure in order to achieve a specified goal. Its a video games capacity for representation, which provides a game designer tremendous power to interpret and portray the world based upon their views and beliefs and shape the experience of the player, constrained as they are by the rules instilled into the game by the designer. They may not be conscious of the underlying assumptions that underpin the rules embedded within their video game's structure. For 30 years we've been bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the predominant narrative of neoliberal/neoconservative ideology, so its little wonder video games too follow the same blueprint.

As a disclaimer, politically I'm now pretty pragmatic. I ascribe to Bismarck's phrase that politics is the Art of the Possible. Over the years I've flirted closely with Anarchism (without rulers), though I'm no longer so doctrinaire about my opposition to formal government. You could describe me as a libertarian-socialist or Panarchist. Panarchist essentially means there would be allowances of a diversity of forms of governance, each operating simultaneously and providing for humanity's disparate needs. What frustrates me is that since the fall of the Soviet Union, not only are our choices constrained by the supremacy of the capitalistic system, but the narratives of the neoliberal/neoconservative philosophy are so pervasive, that they are all but unquestioned.

Since the events of the Great Financial Crisis myself and many others like me have been emboldened to question, challenge, and even reimagine other narratives and possibilities beyond the current paradigm. We live in exciting times.

I've played video games for a long time. Ever since the days of the Amiga 500. I play for fun, not just to champion my particular political views and the game would be in the same spirit. I would like to make a fun game, but one that also serves a dual purpose. For me, the beauty of a video game is that it can be an abstraction of elements of the real world. Because a game's structure is more stable (not necessarily static) a designer can expose more of the workings underpinning the structures that comprise the aspects of the world you wish to portray. The neoliberal/neoconservative political theorists and "economists" construct a bloodless, rational model of the world, which conveniently leaves out salient facts such as overt violence, implicit threat, social control, relations of power, propaganda, constrained opportunities, which underpin their system all of which could be exposed by cleverly designed game mechanics.

I've been out of the video game arena for awhile now, due partly to my mistaken dismissal of them as a waste of time and because my unwillingness to invest in a PC capable of playing the latest games. Obviously I have now rethought my position to an extent here I would like to develop my own game. Since I'm in the dark regarding recent game developments I may be wrong in believing there to be few games where cooperation, rather than competition is an explicit game mechanic. Modern scholar in scientific domains as biology, behavioral economics, political science, and game theory have revealed the value of cooperation within nature and human society. I am particularly inspired by Elinor Ostrom's work in outlining various principles that are conducive to allow ordinary people to successfully manage communally owned resources cooperatively. Any strategy game that hopes to faithfully model and simulate a cooperative dynamic would need to integrate those principles.

I've come across a couple of articles that explore the politics in video games theme, one of which is relatively brief about video games' unquestioned assumptions about the nature of virtual economies in games and another written from the angle of media criticism about the failure of System Shock to offer a valid challenge to Ayn Rand's vision of a extreme libertarian utopia, because it still clung to the trappings of capitalist economic relations and a conservative image of a successful endgame. The latter is a very long read. My post is nothing in comparison.

http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2010/04/22/economics-you-can-play-not-economics-you-can-use

Feedback and continuing dialogue is welcome.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Advertisement
I've actually asked myself the same question, how would people react to a politically themed video game? I've hesitated to actually sit and map out my ideas for it a bit before I came to the conclusion that it was okay. I had this idea about a game that takes place in a dystopian America, and one of the themes I wanted to implement in the gameplay is adapting to different types of political systems that have spawned on behalf of those who have gone astray from the tradition in all the chaos of the setting You'll come across when crossing a certain territory. You experience their values, their system of economics, traditions and so on. If games are meant to be a creative outlet, why not make it so. Just as long as it isn't generally offensive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think that many people would be open to it as long as it's not too in-your-face about a specific country's specific problems. Many video games have you as a one man army against "the system" which is suitably dystopian and evil. Also look to film... V for Vendetta managed to make people back an anarchist terrorist with a love of explosives only a few years after 9/11. People are open to a lot if it's couched suitably and the protagonist is "the good guy".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hey thanks for your reply

To tell you the truth I wasn't sure whether to expect any, because of the controversial nature of the top and the sheer length of my post.

I'm glad I'm not the only who has had these concerns, regarding the appropriateness of designing an explicitly political game.

Yes I too, am a big fan of the dystopian theme, because it allows one to imagine, a clean slate or fresh canvas, after the destruction of a catastrophic cataclysm, upon which to paint your vision of a different world. I personally have envisioned a novel set in a dystopian universe as a dystopian game would be way beyond my capabilities in terms of scope. An article by Phillip Reeves on dystopian young adults fiction is a worthy read.
http://www.schoollib...yet_to.html.csp

In my game I'd like to explore themes of cultural and social evolution in social and economic norms, political structures, philosophy and "science", and notions of justice and punishment that occured amongst the turmoil of the 18th Century. The game design will initially be rather minimalist taking into account the resources I have available in terms of expertise and money, but I'd like to design and code the game's structure to be modular enough to provide the project the capacity to expand as time, money, and expertise permits. Kind of like the development of Dwarf Fortress. Edited by BarefootPhilospher

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There have been at least a half-dozen cooperative board and card games released in the past 5 years, you may want to look into them for inspiration. Many of them have some sort of problem - Forbidden Island has no hidden data, thus the group tends to make every decision together and there is no individual challenge. I haven't played the Lord of the Rings TCG myself, but I've heard it has difficulty problems, including cases where a random event in the first few turns makes the game nearly impossible to win after that point. As a group these games make for a great study on what people are trying to do and what mistakes it's possible to make.

From a completely different angle, Facebook games do a lot with requiring cooperation, with some strange economic implications. For example, say I need an item X, and you also need an item X. I can't create or earn one within the game at all, nor can I be given one owned by another player. However if I request one from you, you don't have one to start with but you can now send me one and at the same time get one for yourself.

Then there are mmos which require cooperation for some things. Dofus, for example has a thing called prospecting. Each character has a base 100 prospecting, though some have more. Droppable items have prospecting locks - they will not drop at all if the party's total prospecting isn't higher than whatever number the specific item requires, up to a requirement for 1,000 prospecting from a party of max 8 characters. Or the Final Fantasy MMO is somewhat famous for being almost unplayable if you don't want to be in a party all the time. A Tale In the Desert is a combatless, moneyless, crafting-focused MMO where some of the crafting tasks such as quarrying marble require a minimum of four people. There are probably dozens of games that require 6, 8, or more players to cooperate to start a guild/clan, solve a puzzle, and of course defeat bosses and dungeons or participate in team pvp. Some of them have XP sharing features where if people of disparate level are fighting together the lower level one will level up faster, helping them "catch up" to their friend.

Me personally, I prefer to solo and find many of these required cooperation things very irritating. But I have friends who love highly cooperative gameplay and find soloing boring, so I'm glad that people are designing games for them, as long as I don't end up forced to play them myself. Edited by sunandshadow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that many people would be open to it as long as it's not too in-your-face about a specific country's specific problems. Many video games have you as a one man army against "the system" which is suitably dystopian and evil. Also look to film... V for Vendetta managed to make people back an anarchist terrorist with a love of explosives only a few years after 9/11. People are open to a lot if it's couched suitably and the protagonist is "the good guy".


hey Jeffrey,

Thanks for your reply. I'm not specifically targetting my game to an audiance weaned on violent action games, though violence is certainly a key driving force in social change. Even independence struggles struggles against British rule which we associate with the pacifist methods of Gandhi, there was a strong element of violence in the struggle. Perhaps that mechanic could be incorporated at a later date.

The first iteration of the game will be a life/social simulation of the game, where you control a group of villagers in a region of rural England during the turmultuous period of 18th Century England. The initial game structure will sit between the Sims and Tropico in terms of complexity and gameplay, whilst the presentation will resemble the Third Edition of the classic Oregon Trail, with a heavy emphasis on GUI elements. Whilst I'd like to incorporate the complexity and detail of Tropico or the Patrician series of games, I also value the intimacy of the Sims, which I believe would add alot to the gameplay. The internal economy and social mechanics will be as complex as the management simulation games, but its presentation will be heavily abstracted in favour of the intimacy of the Sims life simulation dynamics where the player will see the impact that the social, political, and economic changes that are happening in the world around them is having on the population of the village. The player will have an opportunity to intervene in trade between the villagers and between the village and with the outside world, engage in the management of communally owned resources, and engage in village politics. The social, political, and economic systems will be modeled authentically according to the historical form that they took in that period.

I know that the game is likely to serve a rather small niche of gameplayers, but I believe the setting to be have sufficient colour and vibrancy to appeal to alot of people and the game mechanics will certainly differentiate it from many other games available, though I hope not to alienate too many players with a crude, heavy handed portray of the economic and political elements. .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hey thanks SunandShadow,

for your indepth response. Your comment is certainly provided a comprehensive survey of the mechanics of games that I haven't had the opportunity to play since I took time away from playing games.

I had investigated board games as a potential source of inspiration, but I was searching under the wrong term. I never thought about cooperative board games. Thanks for the tip. I hadi looked into Settlers of Catan, but from reading descriptions of the game it appeared it was geared more towards adverserial gameplay rather than cooperation, I could be wrong as I haven't played it myself.

I have definitely been considering A Tale in the Desert as a game to play, because I particularly enjoy open world sandbox games, particularly those with a strong crafting element. I had not realized that they had a cooperative mechanic. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Settlers of Catan is a completely competitive game, it's a race to be the first to build up 10 victory points worth of empire. You trade with the other players, but you are always trying to be the one that comes out ahead in the exchange. It's a good game though, deserved it's game of the year award. If you have a board game store in your area I recommend asking the proprietor and/or other employees about cooperative games. Also boardgamegeek is a great review site and forum.

A Tale in the Desert is a resetting MMO; when the game population as a group achieves the biggest cooperative goal there's a server reset and everything starts over. It's most worth playing when it has just reset because that's when the game's population is highest and everyone is trying to accomplish the same thing. If you start 3 or 4 months in you'll never catch up with the sever leaders and the game's population will have sunk. There is a free trial though, 24 hours of play (not a realtime day, it counts when you are logged on). 7 Lakes is usually the most heavily settled area, generally where one wants to be for maximum social participation. The main problem with ATiTD is that it's not really under active development any more, doesn't get fixes or new content, and the inevitable result of that is that it will go extinct in a few more years unless it gets sold.

If you are planning to have the player control a group of characters like the sims, I recommend you check out the combatless strategy games Artist Colony and Gemini Lost.
http://www.bigfishgames.com/download-games/6872/artist-colony/index.html
http://www.bigfishgames.com/download-games/6281/gemini-lost/index.html Edited by sunandshadow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think both politics and economics are excellent game design elements. There are a lot of game-like aspects there, complex networks of interactions, that generate rich strategies. Using politics as the theme can work too. If the game is good there's certainly the niche of "sofisticated" simulation/strategy gamers to pick it up. If I remember correctly, Chris Crawford's Balance of Power, a geopolitical simulation set in the cold-war era, was quite successful for its time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hello sunandshadow,

Thanks for your reply once again.

Sadly I live in a small town, which doesn't have a dedicated gaming store. I have done some research and found several games with cooperative elements, though none offers the mechanics which are applicable to my planned game.

Through my research I've found a couple of games which provide fruitful inspiration. One of them is a Text based MUD called Shattered World. The economy of the came includes a finance elements which closely resembles the one I imagined for my own game. The other is Widelands, an open source trading management simulation, whose developers have written a very comprehensive description of the game's economic and transport systems which could prove invaluable for anyone wishing to design and code a complex game economy.

http://www.shattered.org/economic.htm
http://www.s.kth.se/sigra/widelands-economy-documents/transport-system.html

I am planning on modeling the cooperative gameplay element on a real world phenomenon called Common Pool Resource Management, which is a set of social institutions, process, and norms, which allow people to successfully management collectively owned resources. There's a great breadth of scholarship on the subject, which I'd like to incorporate in the game. One of its chief proponents, the late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in Economics for her work in the field. Resources in the early part of the time period in which I plan to set my game, were still managed under the umbrella of the Commons in England and still function today though in a much reduced form. It was only between 1750 and 1820 that most of the Commons, were dismantled thanks to the rising political influence of the country gentry who passed legislation through Parliament which enclosed the commons and drove the peasantry off the land.

The only attempt to relate common pool resource management was in a book on game design called Video Game Theory Reader 2. In one of its chapters, the authors discuss a thought experiment, which they imagine a game developer creating a virtual economy for use in social and economic research. One aspect of the game's internal economy is a couple of approaches to solve potential common pool resource problems or the "tragedy of the commons". The common pool resource problem in question was involving a woodland, whose trees could be harvested to yield wood which was a resource crucial in manufacturing player items. The woodland's could be cut down by the players, though they regenerated over time, though the players could overharvest the trees if they cut them at a rate faster than they regenerated. The authors conceived of two approaches to solve the problem. One of them was by introducing a central governing body to monitor and punish players who excessively consumed the harvest or the other was to leave it to the player to monitor each other and impose sanctions or create social norms to instill behaviour which wouldn't jeopardize the survival of the forest.

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=oe0zN

Its likely I will begin developing the game as a mix of MUD with Roguelike elements, because I hadn't imagined the game being graphically complex in the early stage of its development cycle and I will have enough on my plate coding the game logic without the added burden of A.I. My research into game development has been a humbling experience as I've learnt the true extent of the daunting task ahead of me. I've gained a renewed respect for the talent of video game developers, no matter how flawed reviewers and player may think their games are.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Advertisement
×

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

Participate in the game development conversation and more when you create an account on GameDev.net!

Sign me up!