Sincere & Positive Leftism In Games


#1

Hi all,

I missed Warframe’s Fortuna expansion when it came out (looks like there was an attempt to make a thread but it got rules’d into a bigger Warframe thread) but it has a great(!) trailer:

… which has me thinking about other sincere representations of socialism or workers’/peoples’ collective action in a positive light. I thought Tooth & Tail was pretty neat and maybe sort of counts. Not sure if I’d count the opening scenes of FF7 (kidding, mostly (the planet’s dyin’ though)). What else is out there?

(Also I don’t know if Fortuna ends up not following through on this, but the trailer has merit by itself anyway.)


#2

I hope @Seva doesn’t mind, but if you haven’t already, you should definitely read his piece on Warframe’s expansion, it’s fantastic.


#3

Red Faction ends with a corporation coming in to save Mars from its brutal government and then the rest of Red Faction 2 and Guerilla are about how that was deceptive bullshit and blowing up corporations is a sacred act.


#5

I think there are aspects of Ashen that are really fantastic when it comes to building community and collectives. Though I haven’t finished it and it could make a turn at some point, there is a really awesome feeling whenever you return to town and find a bunch of people hanging out and rebuilding. I also love that you always have a companion by default. Really breaks that “I have to do everything alone” mode I can get into with Souls games that can be amplified by toxic parts of that community


#6

You should definitely play Tacoma, if you haven’t checked it out yet. While it isn’t really about organized collective action, it is most certainly about the need for it.

Also, along similar lines but not as obvious, Prey: Mooncrash. Here is the text of one of the books you can read in the game called The New Pharoahs.

[Excerpt from a book about indentured servitude, by Kung Mo-Jackson]

The rise of corporations, discussed in such books as “Pure Evil” by Tracy Webb and “Your Number’s Up!” by Jaan Johnson discuss many challenges to humanism in a world driven by profit.

What even these Social Scientists didn’t see coming was a new way of collective bargaining based on relinquishing innate human rights in exchange for better benefits, wages, pensions and lifestyles.

A trend in employee contracts, especially among exciting high-profile companies like TranStar, now onboard recruits via enticements and compensation offered nowhere else. But the clauses lurking in these contracts provide for punitive debts, which the employee must pay the company should he or she fail to meet plan.

This can lead to a state of indentured servitude, which the contract gags the employee from discussing and prohibits arbitration against…

I like both of those games quite a bit.


#7

Borderlands as a franchise is a hot mess of good intentions and bad execution, but the core “fuck capitalism” stuff in 2 and on is handled pretty well. The satire only starts to unravel when you remember that Randy Pitchford had a significant role in the development of all these games and the Capitalist fuckery he had to do to fund them (see the Aliens Marines controversy).


#8

Persona 5 has a very strong message against crony capitalism, abuse of power of men in power, and especially an apathetic public who has come to accept the failures of Neoliberalism as unbreakable. It’s an especially bitter pill when you repeatedly prove how corrupt the system is from top to bottom and then people respond with “oh what are you gonna do?”

I certainly wouldn’t say this is a perfect leftist game by any means, but it’s as close you’ll ever get in a JRPG.


#9

Like my Borderlands example, Persona 5 falls apart when you remember that Team Persona seems to be run by sexists and mild homophobes. Persona 3 ended up being their best game in narrative because it was the one where there wasn’t a major theme of revolution or questioning authority, because they keep proving themselves as mildly conservative in their politics (especially when you remember they’ve outright said Kanji wasn’t gay, when that was basically his most defining character trait). They keep tripping over their feet when they try to tackle issues of systematic or cultural injustice because they don’t have an answer to any of it or underplay the severity of the problems.


#10

I struggle with Persona 5 in this regard, since I think it comes close in terms of its core arc (which is to put to one side, for now, its homophobia and lack of exploration of non-heterosexual sexuality – I think @JKDarkSide highlighted those pretty well, both in Persona 5 itself and the series writ large) but botches the landing.

I think the idea of the Mementos Depths is a really powerful one. Mementos is a rad concept – this ‘collective unconsciousness’ represented by mass transit, which has, lying underneath it, a prison of safety for our souls. There’s some great layers there – mass transit as representative of coming to and from work, which reifies and builds us into a certain model of society. When you get into the Depths and engage with people metaphorically imprisoned by their own self-esteem, the circumstances of their birth, or hyperrealism works for me in communicating how society can feel at times.

But the game struggles to stick the landing on it, both because of where it takes its plot (i.e. everything with the Holy Grail) and because it ends up, at least in the English version, landing on a message of “you just have to do something! Be out there!” without engaging with some of the systemic problems around it. There’s a way where I can imagine making the case of how its narrative, say, frames incarceration as bad or the impact of campaigning in a positive fashion, but it’s a marginal takeaway.

I’m not sure what my ideal version of that game looks like on that regard. I do think it gets across some good points about centrist politicians, particularly with how it handles Shido, whether in his rhetoric, proposed campaigning style, or true nature.


#11

I’m going to second @mgm195 's suggestion for Tacoma, and then tack on another Fullbright game: Gone Home . While it also doesn’t tackle things about organized collective action… At least it’s sincere and positive and addresses some day-to-day issues in regards to dealing with conservative Things?

OH! The Longest Journey , Dreamfall: The Longest Journey , and Dreamfall: Chapters . They’re definitely on the sincere, positive, and on the leftist side of things, but I’m not quite sure how well the games’ discussion stands as to the organizing part of it?

OH aaaaaand… Subsurface Circular , and Quarantine Circular by Bithell, I think qualify? Or, at the very least good to check out in regards to this.


#12

Volume, also by Bithell, is literally a retelling of Robin Hood, except he (and by extension, the player) are teaching the poor how to steal from the rich.


#13

I agree here generally. The Longest Journey holds up waaaay better than you might expect from a late 90’s adventure game, though maybe in my art student-ass adulthood I find myself relating to April Ryan more than I did when I was a kid and that’s a factor. Theres definatly stuff thats problematic all these years later but it’s still an interesting enough story.

Dreamfall holds up less, with a less focused narrative and a frankly terrible combat system, and I can’t speak to Chapters because I never finished it. Judging solely from my memory all those games have heart, goddammit, and I love em’ for it.


#14

Its not front and center in Night in the Woods but there is interaction with the notion of workers organizing and in the sort of backstory of the game that you can uncover some really fantastically gruesome examples of old mining companies visiting brutality on their workers and the miners returning it in kind.


#15

Ending spoilers for Night in the Woods

Depending on how you read that ending, it might be more front on centre? I kinda took the evil down the hole to be a manifestation of capitalism or some other social system. Where all the older adults are scared and throwing young people to it in the hope that maybe things can be ‘fixed’ even though they don’t understand what the thing down there really is.
I don’t really know how well that bears out tbh, I need to replay the game with the ending in mind so I can ruminate on it more, but it felt very related to the undercurrent of social issues in the game.


#17

Listening to GameInformer discuss Outer Worlds, and it sounds like they’re really leaning into a leftist mood with the game’s world.

I’m not sure if it’s a positive take, seeing as how a quote that stood out was, “In this world, there is no racism or sexism. But there is a LOT of classism.”

Let’s hope that your involvement in said world allows you to shake those foundations up in a meaningful way, and it’s not just, “Whelp, I have to live in THIS world huh?”


#18

Mass Effect 3 could have been that, if it hadn’t reduced its calls to collective action down to tit-for-tat missions and phone minigames.


#19

Can you elaborate?

I mean, I remember bits where Marcus’s cynicism in arming both sides of a conflict is highlighted, the elements of corporate greed leading to permanent hostility between rock creatures and humans, and so forth…but those seemed defanged to me, stemming from the wacky-zany “nothing has any significance” framework of Borderlands. I guess those bits felt less like “fuck capitalism” and more “nothing matters and everyone is cartoonishly terrible.” Am I missing something? (Or do we just have different reads on the same material? If so, legit!)


#20

2 is literally about overthrowing a Capitalist authoritarian rule, and a ton of the humor is satirical jabs at corporate culture, how industry dehumanizes people, and so forth. A lot of the lore is even focused on how the endless greed of Dahl, Hyperion, Atlas, and others lead to mass death and thousands, possibly millions of people, having their minds destroyed, usually using this for dark comedy and having moments where the rug gets pulled and a genuine human moment appears (like Tannis describing how Dahl ruined her life and those of all her fellow coworkers in a mine cart escort mission in 2).

The problem is that 1’s narrative elements were extremely half baked, and the later games have huge tone problems and inherited issues from 1 (like the entire class of enemy of little people and what they’re called) or just general white people writing offensive shit through obliviousness (see Tiny Tina).

The wackiness is supposed to be showing how people try to exist in such a terrible, horrific existence by finding what little enjoyment they can (I’d argue the series kind of predicted the rise of dark absurdity in online subcultures), but it tends to trip things up when the staff don’t think through the full implications of the humor. It’s very, very hit or miss due partly to a reliance on stereotypes, and also because actual attempts at inclusivity (Maya is stated to be Ace, Axiom had a glitch that had him use a line he was only supposed to say with Maya to male characters and they decided to make him canonically bisexual with the Tina DLC, Athena and Springs are both lesbians and a confirmed couple, ect) fall a bit flat due to the old Deadpool problem - a straight cis audience doesn’t detect queerness when it’s depicted as humor (Athena and Springs avoid this issue, but stuff like Mr. Torque becoming more feminist in the Pre-Sequel reads too much like a joke when that wasn’t the intention and sends off a different message by accident).

Tales from the Borderlands is probably the best handled of all these, as way more time is given to having the characters grow or show their relationships, letting the comedy and drama blend together better.


#21

Wow, Fortuna goes places!


#22

As someone who has cumulatively about 500 hours across all the Borderlands games, that games core thesis is that Capitalism is evil and must be destroyed and then destroyed again. Maybe the zanyness of the mainline games masks that a little but its impossible to ignore the way every aspect of the world is the result of rampant corporatism. From Dahl to Atlas to Hyperion, it’s evil all the way down.

Hell the entire “joke” of Timothy’s character in TPS, woof. And I would rec TFTBL to everyone with a pulse.