Politics in Video Games

Author’s Disclaimer: Politics in games are a contentious issue, so before I begin I’d like to define what I mean by that. In this article, ‘politics’ will not discuss issues of diversity and inclusion, but instead they are exploring ideas such as imperialism, communism and other political ideas.

To have an article about political video games without Metal Gear would be a complete failure on my part, so let’s get to that.

Metal Gear

Image : Konami

Metal Gear is a stealth game where you play as a covert operative taking down enemies and it explores many political themes while doing so.

Metal Gear is a VERY political series, it’s first and foremost a Japanese take on U.S imperialism, and it isn’t very subtle about it either, from Sundowner proudly exclaiming about “THE GOOD OLD DAYS AFTER 911” from the perspective of a PMC, Big Boss saying “[war has] given you a place to live”. Metal Gear is about as subtle with politics as a brick through a window, with its two main political ideas being an anti-war philosophy and a warning about war being used as a business. Metal Gear has been political from the start, back when it was less common and is still very political even over 30 years later.

Helldivers 2

Image : Arrowhead

Helldivers 2 is a game where you play as the Helldivers, the elite fighting force of Super Earth, dropped into combat to “liberate” planets of bugs and bots.

Helldivers 2 is first and foremost a work of satire, which seems to go over the heads of many due to the fact that the Helldivers look really cool. Super Earth is a comical representation of fascist imperialism and treads a very fine line between tons of incredibly cool looking equipment and comically stupid lore and rules. A very important thing to remember to do for a satirical regime is to make it clear that it DOESN’T work, The Federation of Super Earth are horrible at protecting their people, the Helldivers are morons who can’t even read and the entire galactic war could have been prevented and is purely manufactured for profit. This is the gold standard for political satire, it’s very obvious that we are the bad guys.

Europa Universalis 4

Image : Paradox Interactive

Europa Universalis 4 is a grand strategy game from Paradox Interactive where you rule over a nation between 1444 and 1821

Europa Universalis 4 (EU4 for short) is a special entry on this list as unlike most political games it puts you in the shoes of a ruler. You don’t technically have to start colonialism, but let’s be real, you’re going to anyway because it makes tons of money. It’s certainly an interesting debate about how we approach morality in video games and some have raised concerns about how something that disgusts us in real life is very easy to do in game. In my first game of EU4, I started a colonial empire in South America and just went on as usual. This indifference with atrocities may be from lack of immersion, you are not playing as any one ruler and have no true attachment to anything in game, you care about as much about the peasantry as the PM probably does about some random fella in Cairns.

Warhammer 40K

Image : Games Workshop

Warhammer 40K is a tabletop wargame where you buy, assemble and paint miniatures and fight against other armies, from regular soldiers and superhumans to giant robots and even brawny Orks.

To start off I would like to put it out there that I really like Warhammer, I have nearly 1500pts of Astra Militarum soldiers and think that it is a great and expansive universe, however it also has some of the WORST political satire I’ve ever seen. Warhammers satire has one main issue, the system works, everything the Imperium of Man is a necessary evil. To just go over a few;

  • 1000 psychic souls must be sacrificed to the God-Emperor in order to be able to navigate space
  • Praying to a god apart from the God-Emperor will spawn demons from beyond reality
  • Every single enemy of the Imperium are a bunch of brutal killers who cannot be reasoned with
  • Grinding the dead into paste is the only way for humanity to eat

The problems with Warhammers satire stem from the fact that all of this MUST be done, otherwise humanity will perish. This means that everything that the Imperium does is the correct course of action. The brutal fascist imperium often are painted as the relative good guys next to the xenos, leading to a concerningly large right wing fanbase. Games Workshop has realised it’s much more profitable to just tolerate the fascists instead of actively telling them that they are not welcome, the most we get is the occasional social media post saying something along the lines of “Everyone is welcome in 40K”. Warhammer was originally a satirisation of the authoritarian Thatcher regime in Britain, so I suppose the ripples of her rule lasted longer than her.

Honourable Mentions

  • Persona 5 – societal norms are outdated and change is needed.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 – unchecked capitalism will destroy everything but the elite of society.
  • Hardspace Shipbreaker – Corporations are not your friend and you should join a union.
  • Ace Attorney – legal corruption will erode justice.
  • Fallout – War is humanity’s greatest sin and we are doomed to partake in it forever.
  • Road 96 – in the face of authoritarianism people will always fight back.

Games do not need a political message, Mario is never going to become an allegory of racism or start shooting hookers. But I think in story-driven games can be greatly enhanced by a political message, or a message to tell.

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