The Political Impressions Of 21st Century Gaming - A Pixelated View


The Political Impressions Of 21st Century Gaming

Gaming has always had something to say. It has however become an increasingly unmistakable advocate and forceful interpretor of meaningful political discourse. This rise in political connectivity and the inter-relevance of popular media and the politics that shapes the society that consumes it has never been more relevant than in recent years. As more people choose to interact with the gaming medium so to do the gaming developers with the truly meaningful discourses. If gaming can claim to have any one fundamentally decisive ability to shape the world it exists within, its ability to influence the minds of its audience is perhaps the greatest and most persuasively compelling one.

The cultural medium of gaming has found itself at the forefront of a popular entertainment revolution over the past decade. The result of this revolution is the ever more accepted idea that our hearts and minds are now shaped and moulded more than ever by the popular media we consume – Even more so than what we learn in school or study in college. This realisation has resulted in what media and communication research scholars call the ‘Selective Exposure Theory”. S.E.T theory when simplified ultimately suggests that people generally favour the consumption of information that reinforces their pre-exiting views, rather than the material that may result with their current views being questioned. Though not always consciously, gaming developers have increasingly began to recognize this and in turn a war for the hearts and minds of the gaming public has been raging on for many years.

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The industry itself recognizes the paramount importance of consistent exposure – Especially considering the younger demographics of the gaming fan base and their general tendency to consume the product on a consistent and regular basis. The ‘Youth Media Learning Network’ also recognize the importance of this psychological link from the consumers’ rather than the providers’ perspective.

“Young people make constant connections to their lives through the media they consume. In a world where people consider fictitious characters as heroes (.) there is little questioning about where these ideologies root from.”

In a society where gaming has taken such a dominant role in the lives of many, this fundamental link between what the industry is saying and what the consumer believes is hard to ignore. The political ramifications of this are compelling. The industry itself transcends the barriers many other popular media formats find difficult to break down. When somebody plays five or six titles over a six month period, and all of these games underhandedly espouse the same or extremely similar values and ideals, is it many who play these games may eventually, having played many titles over many years, end up believing in and seeking out these moral ideals? These are the truly compelling questions this relationship of power and interpretation presents. When the video games industry and politics are mentioned in the same sentence, usually it is a result of a scandal surrounding what some suggest is the ‘extreme violence’ the industry exposes young people to on a regular basis.

Politicians and the press can often over-react to the negative effects the industry is having on the minds of young and often vulnerable people. Despite this the industry has continued to create some truly spectacular art. And much of the fear some have concerning violence and negative messages from games is almost overwhelmingly false. In many cases the gaming industry has utilised this political space it has found itself in to promote some compelling and consistent ideals. Often the messages are streamlined and carefully presented but can ring out loud and clear when seen as part of a bigger picture. Whether it be Crackdown or Mass Effect, Deus Ex or Bioshock, games often espouse consistent and often idealistic views. Normally the political interpretations of these games bring out consistent values such as freedom and justice. The player is often strongly defined as the force of good, and though tough action must often be taken, this message is consistently backed-up and played upon to remind the gamer of the underlying positive purpose of the mission. But games also provide audiences with more complex and nuanced political messages such as Bioshock’s potential anti-capitalism message or its critical take upon destructive social progress and moral decay. Much of this interpretation is exactly that, personal interpretation, but as with the aforementioned games consistent overarching ideological messages can be found in most games today.

The industry as a whole has undoubtedly recognised its cultural power also has the potential for creating the space and environment for political opinions. This realisation is natural for a quickly growing and in many cases, maturing culturally dominant industry. Through this realisation the industry has also begun to have a more legitimately lasting influence upon the players exposed to the industry’s titles. The ideals and ideologies that consistently appear across games and genres are and will continue to act as an ideological focus for the generations of gamers who are exposed to these ideas from an early age, and increasingly continue to play and interact with the medium well into their lives. There is undoubtedly a new cultural super-power on the block and it wont shy away from having playing in politics any time soon.'

About Jack Crutcher