Should Videogames be a Platform for Political Commentary?
In a very drawn-out presentation from Square Enix about their FFXIV reboot, A Realm Reborn, the developers explain that they are still debating whether or not to add same-sex marriage into the game along with the usual avatar marriage. In their own words, ‘Each country has a different way of thinking. So first we would like to start out with opposite-sex marriage, and then consider the feedback from our players in order to make a careful decision.’ Political issues like same-sex marriage and country relations has always been prominent in video gaming, but its presence in MMOs is especially telling of the world we live in. With the popularity of the internet allowing for a huge amount of transparency in politics, how can video games keep up with modern ethics without trampling on country boundaries?
Integrating anything considered a ‘human right’ of any country is a huge plus. Although not all countries consider gay marriage or LGBTQ issues to be a legitimate political topic, pushing the topic through video games is one way to encourage progress. As long as the addition does not encourage the negative treatment of a group of a specific group of people, there’s no harm in adding it. It’s true that the game will be more difficult to market in countries that aren’t quite as progressive with their ethics or strictly traditional, but in the event the game makes it there, it at least allows the issue to be discussed in more detail both in the media and in gamer circles.
There are quite a few more issues than just human rights when dealing with politics. Leading up to the release of Assassins Creed III, how the relationship between Britain and America would be handled was repeatedly invoked by the media. A neutral approach to the issue might backfire and tick off both sides, while an approach that had Connor on one side of the war, fighting one group of enemies without considering both sides of the history, would certainly invoke criticism. Other games that involve multiple real-world characters, countries, and cultures—especially ones prominent in modern news—also have to tread carefully with how they handle the characters. Ultimately the best way to integrate these very real politics is to tell it as it is, from a neutral perspective, allowing the gamer to make their own decision about the politics they’re seeing on the screen.
When you make entertainment for a large and active user base, it can be a little risky publishing an unpopular or controversial portrayal of the events. However, that controversy also makes the game much more real to the people playing it. It gets media talking about the game—and, more importantly, the issues behind that controversy, in an open manner. As long as these political episodes do not detract from gameplay—such as catering to China and punishing hardcore gamers for long play times in Final Fantasy XIV—the politics are a great addition to MMOs and video games in general.