Games That You Can't Let Yourself Think About


Hey, even if you as a player look back on choices that you made as your character and go “hm, perhaps bad???” that’s still like… It be like that sometimes with RP. Like sometimes you gotta look at a choice and be like “this is awful, but it’s what they would pick”.

My playstyle was admittedly all over the place because the game expects a protagonist who’s willing to make hard choices and horrible compromises in the face of the greater good, but if you’re playing Casteless, you’re immediately putting yourself in the shoes of a character who could possibly know better than that because you’re in a place to ask yourself about who pays for those sacrifices, and the experiences in your life lead than answer to be “me, and people like me” which puts you in a situation to play a character who gets handed a position of power and can go “not anymore”.

And that’s why I didn’t sacrifice my Warden at the end of DA:O. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.


Interesting question.

I think that there are two main things here: first, one of the main selling points of modern, “realistic” FPS war games to mass markets is the reality of the situation, even if you are in a slightly alternate world of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, or Insurgency or Counter-Strike, etc. As a result, I doubt that, especially a AAA developer, will ever try to create specifically a modern reality in an alternate universe. (Although maybe others have examples thatI am just not thinking of now??)

The second thing is that any military/war/conflict game makes a political statement. When they claim they don’t “insert politics” into their game, that is of course false - every single game that involves some type of conflict makes a judgement about who the baddies are, what sort of environment the action takes place in, what decisions can the player take and how these decisions are morally framed, etc. etc. etc. This is, for instance, the blind spot of everyone who laments that Far Cry 5 is “now” political - Far Cry has always been political, and almost always had shitty politics, as was made clear time and time again by many people, Austin included.

As a result, any game that may try to “extract” modern conflict out into an alternative universe will make the same judgements. Their choices, decisions and narratives will be seen from the real, parallels to real conflicts will be made, the sub-text will be read. It’s inescapable. That is the whole point of art.

As per your point:

I think it’s impossible to extract these things full stop. Everything we make is informed by our cultures, civilisations, histories etc. Personally, I think the best Sci-Fi is about the present, about our cultures and histories, is informed by them. Sci-fi/fantasy, even if an author might believe it so, is not about anything else but our world, there are metaphors, parallels, etc. in every piece of media, like I said, it’s inescapable. In order to make it about something else, it has to be written in a language that we don’t understand.


I remember finding this frustrating, because they could so easily have incorporated the backlash and distrust of augmentation / augmented people in a less ham-fisted way, which less ham-fisted way could have actually had something subtly to say about the mechanics of real-world oppression by being consistent with the game’s internal universe instead of storming in with way-too-obvious parallels that leave no room for personal interpretation / thought.

If I remember right, the side-missions did a way better job of illustrating the world than much of the surface-level stuff did.

Also, I had a great time playing as my personal interpretation of Jensen, who had a compulsive habit of going to every apartment in the game and throwing the occupants’ fridges out into the apartment complex’s central courtyard. Great extra dimension to the character, that.


When I play Ghost Recon Wildlands I find I have to just not take it seriously, because it feels so rotten. Not an uncommon opinion I know.

Here’s where I diverge slightly.

Destiny 2’s enemies “The Fallen” for me feel like - Why am I fighting these people - I’m not fully into the extended lore so maybe they did something really bad that justifies me mowing down loads of the scavengers. I mean in that game both the humans and fallen are scavengers, but it feels like we can’t be friends because they are othered. It gets to me I dont know.


Yeah, this is basically where I’m at with this idea, though I initially attributed my personal conclusion to just not being creative enough. Were it so removed from existing history as to be entirely new and not intentionally representative (should this even be possible, honestly,) it would also probably not be very engaging, for the same reason that we tend to write stories about human/humanoid/anthropomorphic characters: relatability is key.


What Katamari Damacy is really about.


Yea, I mean I am perhaps abstracting the categories out a bit too far here, so there can definitely be a space between this conceptualisation on one side and realistic simulators on the other. In this space, some may find alternative realities that are different enough to their personal experiences for them to be able to enjoy them as fiction that does not relate to their inner world.

EDIT: man that last sentence is rough. I am preserving it, so I can look back on how not to write hah


In the past when the last city was being founded they killed many many refugees trying to get to the city, and I think destroyed the colony ships that were trying to launch from the cosmodrome. But I think they are (were?) meant to be a poignant enemy since they also had a golden age which was cut short, and all they want is that world/power back. There isn’t any malice directed at humanity as such, just that we happen to be in possession of their “great machine” and they want it back.

Also, reading between the lines, are you a PC player? In D1 we had an ally from the Fallen who gives us a lot of the lore of their history and certainly paints them as a noble race who have fallen on hard times, but would otherwise be our equals. There has been almost constant buzz that at some point Bungie will release a fallen subclass for players which I suspect is unlikely but it could be pretty amazing.

Edit: It might be giving Bungie far more credit than they deserve, but I think that sense of not quite knowing why you are fighting the Fallen makes sense from the start of the first game, as a Guardian you are brought back to life with no prior memories and they attack you on sight. I think the video they made for Zavala before the gameplay reveal might be my favorite thing from D2, and it covers that sense quite well


@branwen got into this pretty well, but I wanted to chime in too.

You are not alone in that feeling. I’ve seen a good amount of discussion and speculation that humanity and the Fallen are similar enough that they could ally with each other to fight the Vex and Hive. I’ve always gotten the sense that Guardians and Fallen just kill each other out of habit at this point. Unfortunately, lorewise, the Fallen are so scattered in leadership that it would be difficult to even start a negotiation.


I mean, they already laid all the groundwork for that (2nd wave gangs killing each other the second the eye in the sky vanishes in the dark zone; 1st wave being the army of the big bad including a full arc of “just like you” into the enemy via loss of support as the leadership pulled out, played out over vignettes; the self-awareness mentioned in the piece). The text of The Division is clear that you’re the good guys. Definitely. Even when you’re shooting other good guys to steal their stash and extract it.

The interesting point about The Division is that the second US players were dropped into a location where they saw their own faces in the opposition forces (that the voice in their ear said were the real bad guys with guns), something broke. Not when playing every other military shooter. Not even US soil (where previously the convenience was to ensure that the people being killed were definitely foreign terrorists or an invading army) but the people. Good Americans. Us. U.S. How dare ‘our troops’ be shown to just mow down people. This is wrong and yet the official voice keeps telling me I’m saving society and the world (as it cleanly designates who are “valid targets”). This would seem to be a dissonance that everyone else in the world just took as the standard part of playing a military shooter.

Edit: I guess that does go to the question topic: when playing The Division (and experiencing the absolutely banal setting and corresponding moral void) I try to avoid thinking about the number of people who will nod to ACAB but then turn round and talk about “our troops” (and what that says about how people can ignore US imperialism when consuming all the other media that’s not this particular game).


Oh Lordy, there are a lot of games where I have to do a convenient ‘hiding away’ of ideals. Pokemon is one that comes to mind, I can’t think about how it is essentially just dog fighting but cute? The colonialism of Stellaris is another one that gives me that uncomfortable “oh wow I shouldn’t be doing this” itch. But I think there’s also a vast difference between games that maybe have uncomfortable premises or elements and games and games like the division that kinda champion garbage behavior.


They actually seem to be more organised now; and two of the dead Ghosts added in AoT implies that Mara Sov’s brother, Prince Uldren has united the Fallen houses under a new banner (which would make sense of them all wearing purple in D2).

The end cinematic of D2 has been confirmed to show specific story locations for DLCs/expansions and shows the Reef briefly, so we might find out more at some point

Edit: man, I miss dead Ghosts/Grimoire


I totally get this mindset, but I also had a radically different experience, particularly in HITMAN (2016). The game punishes you for killing anyone who isn’t the target, so I tried my very best to play as much of a “Silent Assassin” as possible. In fact, I would argue that out of all the murder simulators out there, the Hitman series, especially the most recent one, probably does the best job of making me respect human life, not just because character NPCs frequently have their own little dialogues (like two henchmen talking about the multiverse theory), but also punishes killing people, and most importantly makes it extremely inconvenient.

Sorry, but man, I really, really like Hitman.

But as for adding to the general discussion, I could bring up PUBG and gun fetishism, but also I have issues with lots of strategy games, and not just because I’m not very good at them. I have a lot of trouble getting into the War Strategy mindset. I had a really fucked up moment when I was playing Civilization V; I was playing as France and had used the bonus of extra Culture points for every city before the Steam Age to get a Utopia victory as fast as possible. So I put as little points into Science as possible and made as many cities as possible across my continent. I eventually did get a Utopia victory, but as I went into “post-game” I found myself doing something very strange: I started going to conquer other nations. I was easily the largest nation, and my rationale at the time was, “Well, I have a perfect society, right? So why not join me?” When I realized how against my code of ethics this looks, I slowly backed away from my game.

Since then, I frequently try to play strategy games as ethically and as pacifistic as possible, frequently to my own demise. None of my Stellaris runs have gone well because I overexpand without a proper navy to protect myself. I’ve only put a little bit of time into Prison Architect, and I think it kind of exemplifies this issue for me. It’s a game that I find super enchanting on a mechanical level (though, again, I’m not great at the math strategy games) but super off-putting on a narrative level. On one hand, it’s a super engrossing game that scratches that itch of “boy, I really like making little geometric places”, but it’s really, really difficult for me to get beyond the “boy, the prison industrial complex is literally one of the worst things ever.”

I feel like, since strategy games need to be thought about to be played properly, it’s very hard to turn your mind off from the political and ethical undertones there, especially for really complex strategy games (like Stellaris and Prison Architect) which make systems out of those ethical undertones. I find it way easier to kill the waves of baddies in Quake because those monsters are completely devoid of any humanity. I find it easier to slaughter Russian mobsters in Hotline Miami because it consciously addresses the violence. I find it easier to kill people in PUBG or DotA 2 because we’re all playing in the magic circle. But when those I am fighting or subjugating have their own mechanical systems that represent their likes, dislikes, ethics, and ideologies, it becomes increasingly hard for me to look at them as just numbers on a screen.


I used to compartmentalise the parts of media that liked despite the problems I had with their politics until I kind of stopped. The fact that almost all media has shit politics and perpetuates pernicious assumptions about people is probably never going to go away, and the decision to compartmentalise those parts of a given piece of media to allow yourself to enjoy it means you’re not taking in the text as a whole.

And while that’s fine, I’ve started to enjoy media a whole lot more since I started engaging with all of it. It makes for a richer experience taking in everything, even when it compromises the “fun” parts.


Any video game that tries to work off of a metaphor where the oppressed party that is being directly paralleled to a disenfranchised group, but also have godlike powers and are therefore justifiably frightening to the public, is
fucking terrible

Serious question: how do you feel about how that was handled by Harry Potter and their oppression by muggles or Marvel’s Civil War and their depiction of the Superhero Registration Act? I was never bothered by Harry Potter but I thought Marvel dropped the ball. I’m just wondering if there’s a way that Bioware could’ve done that storyline but handled it well.


Pretty much any strategy game where you control kingdom, empire etc. There’s just… never a way to play those games without violating the core of my beliefs while successing.


Oh I haven’t read either of those. I missed most of the AoT grimoire unfortunately.

That definitely changes a lot of my reads of the situation. Thanks!


every FPS based on a war that has happened. i generally avoid them (with some exceptions)…


I’m not sure I would seriously call the secret society that the magical community has going on in HP “being oppressed by Muggles”. If there’s any metphor for oppression being done in that universe, it’s in the way the Wizarding community treats other magical sapients (e.g. centaurs, house elves, giants). Even so, J.K. Rowling is a white cishet woman trying to bring oppression to the forefront in her world by using magical creatures as a metaphor for the disenfranchised. While I know plenty of queer folks and PoC that relate to monsters (case in point, my scalie ass), there’s a bit of a problem when that comparison is made by someone who is part of a system that’s had a hand in dehumanizing and othering us.

Civil War came out when I was in high school, so I don’t actually remember a lot of it, seeing as that happened when I was 16/17 (iirc?) and I’m now in my mid-20s. I wouldn’t call what was going on in that arc oppression either. If we want to go into what Marvel considers an oppression metaphor, we need look no further than the X-Men, which comes with the same set of problems as Mages in the Dragon Age franchise.

In the Marvel universe, you can get super powers via an alien bloodline (Hulkling), being an alien (Thor), exposure to magic (Iron Fist), learning magic (Dr. Strange), exposure to a gene altering substance (Spiderman), or just by manufacturing your own (Ironman). In a world where all these ways to gain super powers exists and almost none of them are actually regulated, there’s no way to control who gets super powers, when they get them, and how.

In a world like this, mutants, people who are born with superpowers of varying magnitudes, are supposed to stand out because they’re occuring regularly and are considered a different species of human. Within the world and out of it, the fact that mutants are hated and feared doesn’t make too much sense. There’s little difference between Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch, when you get down to their powers (as far as I know). That leads me to believe that the reason mutants are feared in the Marvel universe, a place where the superpower roulettes stops on someone new every week, is purely because that’s how Marvel wants to write their comic, which brings us to the big problem: Mutants make a terrible metaphor for oppressed people’s because, in real life, we don’t have superpowers.

In the Marvel universe, mutants range from Skin, who’s power is having a lot of skin, to Storm, who can control the weather. It makes perfect sense to be afraid of them because they could have te pwer to nuke a city, and the average person has no idea who they are and if they’ll use it responsibly. It’s the same thing with Dragon Age mages.

Latinos real world don’t spit acid, black people can’t control the weather, Jewish people can’t phase through walls, and queer folks cannot wield magicks beyond the comprehension of a mere human. The fear and hate levied at the disenfranchised in our world is entirely baseless and unjustifiable.

Granted, I haven’t read Marvel comics in a long time and maybe some things have changed, but honestly? No, I don’t think that bringing up a group of people who are treated like shit by the systems of society, then going “oh but they have godlike abilities” is ever going to be a story that’s told well. The very basis of that kind of narrative device is flawed.

Edit: sorry for the spelling mistakes. I’m on mobile…


Civil War wasn’t an oppression arc. Heroes who chose not to register with the government weren’t an oppressed class; they were just taking an ideological stand. It’s a different thing from the X-Men’s mutant registration arcs; you choose to be a hero, not a mutant.

Trivia: Marvel and DC ended up killing and resurrecting Captain America and Batman around the same time period. Their resurrection arcs were even similar (characters bouncing around the timestream, or some nonsense). The actual point of Civil War was to set up Captain America’s death … outside of Civil War. That’s how badly planned the whole thing was.