In 2017, Video Games Can't Be Afraid of Taking Sides


#1

Violence is always political. World War II was political. Shooting Nazis was always political. But for a time, it became blasé, an inoffensive theme to gives some justification and context for games' mechanical combat. By the time Wolfenstein: The New Order came out in 2014, players had been looking through William "BJ" Blazkowicz's eyes for over twenty years, and had long since stopped seeing meaning in the act of shooting Nazis.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pa3pk8/in-2017-video-games-cant-be-afraid-of-taking-sides

#2

I disagree (with your feeling, if that’s possible) that developer foreknowledge of the current political landscape would have caused them to make The New Colossus any differently. There was no equivocating in The New Order, yet in real life, “both sides” arguments were still regularly spewed forth by politicians (in particular, against Democrats and Obama).

I don’t believe that Nazis marching the streets and the president speaking for them would have caused the devs to shy away and compromise on BJ Blazkowicz’s actions and views. I think they’d have done the same as they did in The New Order. The game isn’t out yet, but we’ll soon see. Remember also, it’s the marketing team that leaned in hard on current politics and social turmoil, and they had that knowledge, they knew what was up, and they were still permitted to run with those ads.

EDIT:
To add, I hope the game opens a relative floodgate for games that are unafraid to take a stand. It’d go against the endless “profit$ above all else” mantra that has guided mainstream gaming for too long now.


#3

The idea that a game like Detroit can be apolitical blows my mind. A game that is about oppression of a section of people, robotic in this case, in an American city doesn’t have a message or something to say on that?


#4

I agree with you, and I don’t believe for a second that it’s apolitical. You’re creating the story, you’re putting the thought into what an oppressed people have to go through, what they have to live with–you’re getting political, like it or not.

Either Cage is totally oblivious to his own work or he wants to have his cake and eat it too, that is, make an interesting, politically charged game while marketing it in the ‘least’ offensive way possible so as not to alienate certain portions of the audience.


#5

between “i don’t want to make a game that has a message just one that asks questions” and “detroit is based on an original idea because the AIs are good and the humans are bad, and it’s a story about humans rather than a story about robots” i think David Cage either doesn’t know what he’s doing or what words mean or possibly both


#6

Lol at David Cage.

If you’re asking questions just for the sake of getting people to think, with no end game involved, no message intended, just thinking, then you’re essentially promoting intellectualism in some form, which can be viewed as a message in itself.

Also, Blade Runner much?


#7

David Cage, like a lot of developers, wants to make stuff that’s “political” only within extremely strict boundaries that he defines, and doesn’t want to be criticized for it.

Much like any other idiot who is “just asking questions,” he flees in fear from any engagement outside of his own extremely limited terms, because he doesn’t want to confront or defend his facile opinions.


#8

You’re exactly right, not taking a stance is in itself, taking a stance whether you like it or not. The way Cage speaks about his game just seems disingenuous at this point.


#9

he like specifically said Detroit is different from Blade Runner because the humans are bad in Detroit. i have no idea what the man is thinking


#10

I applaud Wolfenstein 2’s marketing campaign for leaning into the whole “Keep nazis out of America” narrative, but I have a hard time believing AAA games will start to become overtly political. If AAA publishers set out to make a game that graphically meets 2017 standards in gamer’s eyes I don’t know if they can afford to alienate a portion of their possible audience. They’re already adding loot boxes all over the place, so I don’t think investors are going to psyched about offending some people.
I think in Wolfenstein’s situation development had already been pretty far along before an having anti-nazi stance became radical. I feel any political messages in future AAA are going to be allegorical like Detroit, Fallout 4, Dishonored or many Final Fantasy games, unless they end up taking a “Both sides” stance like Bioshock Infinite. I think and hope we’re going to get a lot of independent overtly political or protest games soon, though.


#11

I think it’s okay to just ask questions if they’re new or novel questions. Detroit doesn’t seem to be either.


#12

I think Wolfenstein has the distinct advantage that they can deliberately lean into what was, honestly, a serendipitous/unfortunate timing of release, while having a loooong history to point to and say “Look, it’s not like we just now decided Nazis were a target.” Far Cry 5 is having that issue, to some extent, but they’re also not deliberately poking at the zeitgeist in their advertising.

I think you are right that this isn’t likely to become a predominant trend in the AAA space for exactly the reason you stated - deliberately antagonizing your potential audience isn’t great business. There’s nothing stopping a game from making some kind of point, but Wolfenstein is taking a particular angle that they’re uniquely set up to take.


#13

One thing I keep wondering about is how games that do take a side (which, for the record, I think is a good thing) will fare once they’re released and the internet takes over. We’ve already seen incredible downvoting and review bombing on games like Firewatch over the pewdiepie scandal, and I can’t help but think the digitally-savvy alt-right will do the same to Wolfenstein. I hope the people who help curate Steam, Uplay, etc. are paying attention enough to realize what a problem this could be in the current political climate.


#14

Didn’t Bioshock Infinite run into a problem where the developers portrayed the oppressed diverse underclass as being just as bad, and just as adversarial, as their white, conservative, well off oppressors? That definitely pissed quite a few people off.

The marketing for that game was also pretty blatantly political, to the point that a Tea Party group appropriated a marketing image for their own propaganda (ignoring that it was meant to satirize their own views).


#15

I haven’t played Detroit since it’s not out yet, but I don’t understand the criticism that’s being levied at that game in this article. Having the option to work towards a nonviolent solution is a game that is afraid to take sides and doesn’t have anything to say? What?

I enjoyed Wolfenstein the New Order and plan on playing this upcoming game, but let’s not make this game into something it’s not. It’s a game about killing Nazi’s - the end. It’s not supposed to be some grand political statement about the troubling rise of neo-Nazism in America. I don’t need it to be that to enjoy this game.


#16

I think it’s important to distinguish between overtly political games and non-overtly political games. By virtue of having been created by people with political opinions, all games are political. Some games set out to say something intentionally, and others might not, or might try to portray a “balanced opinion” like Bioshock Infinite, but all games say something whether or not that thing is the point of the game.

Did Wolfenstein: the New Order make a particularly uhh, idk, poignant statement about nazism or call people to action? No, but it pretty clearly said “Nazis are irredeemably bad and should be murdered rather than listened to or pitied.” Its cast was made up of Jewish people and disabled people and people of colour to whom the player was supposed to be sympathetic.

People are critiquing Detroit because it claims to be apolitical (which lots of folks have established is not a thing they believe is possible for a game to be), but engages with politics, is a story about political participation and social movements, and will portray the actions you can undertake (pacifism, violent action, vandalism) in some light, be that intentional or unintentional. It’s particularly frustrating because David Cage refuses to engage with the possibility that the story he’s writing here has a perspective – even though it clearly does.


#17

I’d say The New Order gave pretty solid reasoning in support of opposing fascism, but to each their own I guess?


#18

Yes. Though I don’t think that’s a case of avoiding taking sides or playing it both ways, but rather an attempt at portraying the phenomenon of the opressed being shaped into opressors by the same forces that keep them down. I don’t think they were successful at it at all, and honestly it’s a really difficult thesis to explore, but I doubt it was out of cowardice or cynicism.


#19

Considering the number of white people who get all BUT REVERSE RACISM!!!, I think it’s fair to be skeptical.

And just the sheer amount of “both-sides-are-equally-bad” discourse in general.

ed: Like… the force keeping them down is racism/white supremacy. There is no universe where white supremacy turns black people into oppressors of white people. That’s literally not how anything works.


#20

I can’t see replies rn for some reason, but if this is toward my comment – I totally agree! I think Wolfenstein fits into the category of “overtly political games,” but imo its position in time (both in terms of its setting and its release) made that political message pretty uncontroversial (who can’t get down with killing Literal Nazis? vs. the issues people might have with killing American white supremacists in a modern setting) and easier (for some people) to overlook as applicable to present issues.

I also haven’t played it in a long time! But I have no beef with the strength of the arguments Wolfenstein makes.