Video games have been around since the early 1970s. Providing entertainment from arcades to households for many years. Now more than ever the video game median delivers compelling stories through visuals, storytelling, and acting to create a piece of entertainment that can motivate, terrify, excite, or even cause self-reflection. Video games have become a craft like no other, that demands your attention and your participation. They can draw you in and make you become invested in the journey the character you are controlling is going through. Often it can pull a player in so much, that an attachment can occur where a player can feel some level of happiness or remorse that the character on screen is feeling because you as the player, took part in whatever has occurred on screen. For many gamers, this is exciting and is often revered as something every game or video game developer should strive for. However, there are some gamers who only want this to go so far. That or they think it should only be considered entertainment and nothing else. Not all games need to be the same, but most games have a purpose on top of being a fun hobby. It is within human nature we are drawn to stories. We seek out things we can relate to or things that inspire us or make us feel something. However, over the past few years, the gaming community has been polarizing when it comes to what a game should try and achieve through a story, and if a story needs to be anything more than just entertainment. Here is the thing though, it is impossible to do that. Again, falling back on human nature, a person could read literature, and the piece of literature could try not to be about anything. Its only goal is wanting to come off as absurd.
Yet even though the goal of this piece of literature is to be nonsensical, humans will find a way to interpret and analyze something to relate it to. No matter how hard we try, everything is categorized or interpreted a certain way so we can conceptualize what it is. This is loosely based on the term Phenomenology. A philosophy that studied the structure of experience and consciousness and how people use that to determine how they understand/relate to something. I bring this up simply to make it apparent that no matter how pointless or absurd something created by someone is, an individual will find a way to give it meaning. Unfortunately, some people do not understand that it is impossible to not imbue things like entertainment as anything more than entertainment. A few years back when the Last of Us Part II was released for PlayStation, many fans of the first game were angry because they thought the game had a political agenda due to the main character being a gay woman and another character later in the plot identified as the opposite gender. For some of these gamers, this was seen as a political agenda. Or something that was being shoved in their face to try and say that people should be okay with this. My reaction to this anger from other Last of Us fans was also anger, but anger toward those who thought that because the themes of LGBTQ were showcased in the Last of Us Part II, some gamers felt it was being forced upon them. That it was coming off more like education or a stance from the left-wing of political values. Meanwhile, most of these angry gamers would play the series Call of Duty, where you literally play as an American soldier “delivering justice” to terrorists…I’m sorry, how the hell is that not political?
Honestly, that may be more politically charged than showcasing a protagonist as being gay. The romanticization of American soldiers in Call of Duty, in my opinion greatly outweighs that of a protagonist liking the same sex. Highlighting that military power and aggression on actual historical events or groups of people seem far more political, but because it is a shooter, do people think it is not political? Hello…war is about politics. It is about power; it is about values. Conflict is usually born from differences in beliefs, so when someone says that Call of Duty is just a game and it is fun, I greatly disagree. It is by far more political than any other game out there. Some of the greatest role-playing games of our time are highly political. Take Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic for example. Star Wars’s foundation is built on light and dark. Peace and dominance. Every choice in KOTOR is a statement you make within the world and as the player, you follow through on those stances and see the results, whether good or bad. Some of the most successful storytelling games and RPGs are filled to the brim with different factions, nations, regimes, and right and left-wing characters. Without any of those, there would be now Luke Skywalker to counter a Darth Vader. Without politics even on a small scale, there would be no story to be told. I think when the word “politics” or phrase; “social agenda” is thrown around, people tend to close off because the fact that a game can make a person critically think about a hard topic is still relatively known. Or at least the way in how much more effective storytelling in video games has become is something that some people may still need to come to grips with.
Video games are a participatory medium that grants us the opportunity to live within a world and make hard choices. That is why more than ever they feel more political. The immersion into each and every world a gamer tunes into has a way of making a player ask themselves hard questions and potentially cause self-reflection. Of course, not all games need to drive this agenda so hard, but as storytelling improves so to will the response of the person voluntarily playing that content.