Over the last year we have seen a rise in imbued political messages in games. From Far Cry 5, Life is Strange 2 and The Division, political ideologies are increasingly common in gaming narratives. But what place do they actually play in our games? Is it necessary to include political narratives within a game, or should they be left out?
The conversation has risen due to a statement made by Ubisoft Massive COO, Alf Condelius. He said Ubisoft “cannot be openly political” in their games. He commented that this would be “bad for business”.
According to a report by GamesIndustry, Condelius, speaking on a panel discussion at Sweden Game Conference, said that “we don’t want to take a stance on current politics”.
These comments, however, seem to be in direct conflict to the underlying political messages that have existed in recent Ubisoft titles.
The Division, for example, Condelius says appears to have a political message of a “dystopian future…the current society is moving towards, but it’s not – it’s a fantasy”.
Far cry 5 was arguably Ubisoft’s biggest title of the year. The game, which centred around a predominantly white, religious cult, was controversial from the beginning. This was particularly so against the political backdrop of the United States.
At one point in the game, there seems to be a direct comment made on Trump’s presidency. For those who do not want the scene spoiled from them, you might want to avoid the clip below. But the cutscene certainly seems to reference Trump in a negative manner:
This introduces the broader topic of the place that political messages have within our games. The recently released title, Life is Strange 2, featured some political messages. Many players felt that this was an unnecessary addition, and disliked the idea of video games being politicised.
Alf Condelius isn’t the first Ubisoft employee to weigh in on the concept of political messages in games. Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot, said that Ubisoft games are political, but they are politically neutral.
Guillemot says that their goal is to ‘make people think’. Speaking to The Guardian, the Ubisoft CEO said that “we want to put [players] in front of questions that they don’t always ask themselves automatically”.
But is introducing political messages in games the right step forward for the gaming medium? Many games say that they do not want video games to be a vessel for political agendas, but others tend to agree with the sentiment that Guillemot is pushing. These political messages are just to make players think, as was likely the case with the symbols and themes of Far Cry 5.
Far Cry 5, many argue, tried to be a lot politically deeper than what it was. The Verge commented that it was “a failed attempt to explore far-right separatism”. Far Cry 5 was a game of wasted potential, with the chance to have some great commentary and deepen the possibilities of video game narratives. Maybe it’s better that Ubisoft does stay politically neutral.
Underlying political messages in games are not necessarily a sign of a greater political agenda. They are just a way of shaping narratives, deepening the story and bringing the game back to reality – but as Far Cry 5 proves, if you’re going to make your game political, you need to do it right.