You can't 'just keep politics out of it'


I might be double posting, I’m sorry if I am, this is getting unwieldy; this forum really needs to be threaded.

Obviously I cannot universalize my experience, I have my individual perspective on things, and can’t really escape it firsthand. But I’m pretty sure people can enjoy things that might be from a context that is objectionable to them. I think this view risks making people constant victims. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be conscious of the biases around us, that we often take for granted. People can enjoy things, and be aware of their historical context, at the same time. I love Philip Dick, but understand that his view of women is very skewed. Same with Tolkien, same with Nietzsche.


The first bit contradicts the second bit.

Or maybe more pointedly, lets unravel that “misguided” bit: in what way is you playing a “girl in distress” game not political? Because if it’s just because you don’t personally see it that way, I would like to introduce you to this novel idea that goes sometimes by the name of “Actions Have Consequences.”

Yeah, but part of my point is that this is like preferring magical unicorns. We all prefer the reassuring fictions to the fact that horses are not magical in the real world.


You probably don’t need to explain gamergate anymore. This post:

offers the most compelling explanation I’ve heard so far about why people freak the heck out feeling the Gamer identity is under attack. Although to compare gamergate to a hate group is probably giving gamergate too much credit - it’s not even a group, just a shibboleth for identifying foes


Well thank you. Now that The GamerShit gone to rest, then lets talk about Politics in Gaming; especially how ideology can be found in just about EVERYTHING.


Yeah, pure mathematics is pretty clean, but once you get into things with human characters it’s going to be pretty fraught. I’ve been reading Mary Anne Mohanraj’s posts about identity in sci fi - I wasn’t aware of whatever happened in 2009, but apparently the authors of science fiction had some kind of collective freak-out about race. Anyway, she’s got some pretty fascinating things to say on the topic, most of which would be equally applicable to video games

one core take-away is that good characters have background, and even a white character should have a background that’s more fleshed out than “generic white dude”. But also that when you are creating a character, it’s worth asking if there’s actually a compelling reason why that character has to be white, and that if you don’t specify or hint about race, then your readers are going to assume white

to quote the title of this discussion, you can’t just keep politics out of it


Oh, I was just listening to a story on NPR about something similar, the show Bojack Horseman and how the writers like to put in these little background gags - there was a gag with a dog licking a cop, and the person animating it decided to make it women and everyone was like “NOOOOO!!! That’s gross!!!” And she stood by her guns. But what was reallly sad was that she had to actually put extra thought into the whole thing - making background characters or little site gags like that with women instead of men - her instincts were to default to men. So it’s not like it’s just guys who do this - women do it too, default to men… as you point out, we have similar thought processes about race, too. It’s seriously kind of fucked up if you think about it.

Bojack Horseman creator argues men shouldn’t be the “default” in comedy

Realistic, you say?

The game where you ride around in a car blasting “whoop, whoop, that’s the sound of the police”, the player model hand gesture for enemy spotting (on the criminal side) is sometimes a middle finger, and the melee weapons choices include golf clubs and sledgehammers? Where you can bounce cars up into the air and shoot them with an RPG? That… is fairly realistic?

You know, I can see the criticism that people are maybe taking this all a little too seriously and harrumphing their way around a form of media that they don’t actually understand, which is mostly goofy Hollywood budget snack food entertainment and, let’s be honest here, not that important in the big scheme of things.

PS ask me how I got my gold golf club


But those games ARE political, in a way that makes it much harder for a large subset of the potential audience to “escape real life” and “lose themselves in the game”, and many women who play games may have no predisposition to think/feel like identification with the female corpse shoved in the refrigerator.

And while “America’s Army” was done with a lot more care and subtlety, it was still a deliberately political game, aiming at recruiting teenagers who might want to join the military to think in ways that favor that. (And then, of course, there’s “The Last Starfighter”, where finding an Earth teenager to defeat the Kodan Armada was one of the hidden goals : - )


The verb was “are”, but there was a word missing after the third pair of parentheses, “‘political’ is used as a (…) to mean ‘…’.” Tiredness’ll do that. I had no trouble reading it, but I did grow up with King James and newer-but-still-traditional Bible translations, Latin, Tolkein, sentence diagramming in junior high English, Reverse Polish Notation, etc., so it’s pretty natural.

One of the things I hated having to read in high school German class was Nietzsche. “It looks like he’s saying that the destruction of the human race would be a good thing - did I translate something wrong, or was that really what he was saying?”


I did say. Mostly because the guys in charge did.

Getting in-game money to take out criminals is a pretty squeamish thing to do these days.

Of course, since BF4 continues to crash on me I’m probably still bitter about EA, but cops and robbers seems like it should have been left alone.


I don’t think that I was the target audience; but America’s Army markedly strengthened my impression that I’d prefer to stay the hell away from infantry combat.

I forget the details; but each team typically consisted of some American soldiers, kitted out more or less realistically, along with some local auxiliaries, provided with the basic AKs and RPGs associated with the irregular and/or low budget of the world. Since I didn’t play much, I usually ended up assigned as one of these, I think you needed more XP or to complete more training modules or something to be assigned as a real American soldier with any frequency.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that, while I typically got picked off by a marksman on the other team; I could almost always land an RPG-7 accurately enough to kill or horribly wound 2-4 members of the opposition before that happened. Given that the ‘local auxiliaries’ were a pretty thinly veiled version of more or less exactly what American troops actually end up fighting, the moral of the story seemed…less than encouraging.


Or given an actually good game, like Thief.


Oh yeah, the first thing Battlefield teaches you is that in any kind of remotely real combat engagement you would be dead instantly, as soon as you entered the field, from something you could not even see. War is anything but fair, it is all about maximizing your advantage and applying overwhelming numbers and force so your risk is tiny.

Only an utter moron would play Battlefield, or Counter-Strike, and think that war was a good idea outside of anything but a simulator where you can re spawn. The games teach you that within the first 10 minutes of playing.

Glorify war, my ass.

(that Cruise remake scifi movie, The Day After Tomorrow or whatever, where he keeps re spawning, was more like what games teach you. Infinite death.)


Recently, I became curious as to what was meant by “decadent”, as the word is mentioned quite frequently in propaganda-- particularly fascist propaganda. It turns out that in the 1890s, decadence was an artistic movement taken up by such luminaries as Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, and was an outgrowth of Aestheticism.

They argued that the arts should be judged on the basis of form rather than morality. The famous motto ‘art for art’s sake’ encapsulates this view. It meant prizing the sensual qualities of art and the sheer pleasure they provide. ‘Art for art’s sake’ became identified with the energy and creativity of aestheticism – but it also became a shorthand way of expressing the fears of those who saw this uncoupling of art and morality as dangerous. Aestheticism unsettled and challenged the values of mainstream Victorian culture. As it percolated more widely into the general culture, it was relentlessly satirised and condemned.

So when Macdonald states that

Art MUST be political, because it exists to challenge and educate and edify, to reveal the world to people and to question established ways of seeing it. If you’re saying that games or any other art should be apolitical, what you’re saying is that it should be universally unchallenging, and you’re restricting the scope of games as a form of artistic expression.

she argues that Art exists for more than Art’s sake, and all the strange, subversive beauty that emerged out of the decadent movement wasn’t all that important.


So, you’ve been told by several people in this forum, that OTOH, it is sort of possible to enjoy things that also punch you right in the gut, and OTOH, it takes a lot out of you, and it’s certainly not the same thing as being able to sink into “mindless enjoyment.”

You wish it were different, that everyone could enjoy the same kind of “neutral” enjoyment that you do, but people are telling you “well, in fact I actually can’t.”

You have a couple of options here:

  1. You can decide these people are lying. Actually they COULD do the thing you do, they just choose not to. OR
  2. You can listen to them. And say “huh, I didn’t realize that. You can’t enjoy [Xthing] in the way I can because stuff jumps out and hurts you? That’s wild, I didn’t realize.” And then think about “well, wow, what do I do with that new knowledge?”

The choice is yours. Which will you choose?


No, she argues that it may have been lovely, and it may have been important, but that it was ALSO political. “Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we may die” is a political statement.


And the consequences of me playing a retro Zelda game is? Actually, what are the consequences of me playing ANY game, even the hypothetical “prostitute-killing simulator”? Playing a game isn’t going to magically reprogram my social conscience. I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and join the Men’s Rights Movement (heh) because I played Mario. I’m not going to suddenly decide that killing prostitutes might be good idea because I played “prostitute-killing simulator”. I’m not going to be reprogrammed. I’ve been playing games since the C64, and yet I am still capable of forming my own value system. Perhaps my distaste of this whole issue stems from the fact that all of this angst and hashtags are going towards a mere symptom, and no one seems to be trying to do anything to address the actual problem. Internet activism at its best.

Great, we can all see that X might have a bit of culturally questionable norms encoded. Wonderful. Now go make something that doesn’t. If you can’t make, vote with your wallet. If enough people do either of those, we’ve gone a long way towards an actual solution. People who can do, people who can’t become critics.

Not fall into a false dichotomy. A lot of people probably fall into the former category. I used to. Everything had to be important or personal. Not all, and probably not a majority of people, but I can acknowledge that that class exists. As for the later category, I wouldn’t call it “new knowledge”, people get disturbed, people get shocked, things hit to close to home, or touch on a raw spot. This isn’t a revelation, or at least it shouldn’t be. Again, me enjoying something completely apolitically, despite whatever found or intentional meaning there may be does not effect these people in any way.

And really, sometimes art should punch you in the gut, it should make you uncomfortable. Sometimes art should mimic life, and be vile, brutal, and dirty. Also, not being able to enjoy things unless it reflects your value system is a bit odd to me. I’m sure someone is going to scream “privilege” at this, and that might be true in the vaguest possible sense, but fails to explain how women can read and enjoy the same books I do. Personally I think people who either want everything to be a huge political thing, or people with extremely thin skin who take everything personally are an absolute minority. Some people just want a fight. Some people are just sensitive. I have sympathy for the latter. The former are just annoying trolls, no matter how much I agree with them.


Oh, man, so much! But lets focus on some of the things that you tease out.

Absolutely, but that’s not the “consequences” I was talking about.

The risk of bad politics isn’t you being brainwashed, it’s numb general acceptance. If you are spending time and effort and presumably money on those products, and passively accepting their politics, then you are accepting a world in which those politics are fine for you. It mutely permits a world in which these problematic politics affect others. If millions of people buy the next Mario game and folks like you don’t speak up about how the rescue-the-princess plot is kind of a problem for all the little girls playing it, nothing changes, and little Mario-loving girls, our daughters, our sisters, continue to live in a world where they might come to believe that the only way to be a woman is to be a pretty blonde pink princess, because that’s the only woman in the Mario games.

That’s the harm that silence does, and why “apolitical” isn’t a thing: not engaging the politics simply supports the baseline assumptions - the current status quo - and so can’t help but be supportive of the problems that the default politics have.

Part of my point is that no one can create something that doesn’t have culturally questionable norms. It’s utopian - there is no such inured creator, no such perfect norm. We have no choice but to reflect the society we’re in. But we do have a choice in whether or not we’re okay with such a society - whether we reinforce it, or critique it (and those are really the only choices, varying only by degree). By uncritically playing a Zelda game, you’re saying, in your actions, that you’re okay with its politics, they don’t affect you. Maybe you don’t enthusiastically support them, but they’re not a problem for you, not worth actually doing anything about. The consequence of that action is that nothing changes.


Well, if Wilde was part of that, wasn’t he “politicized” at his trial for his sexual activities? In a sense wasn’t his strange and subversive work political, even if that’s not what he meant to do?


But then that’s exactly the sort of thing that brings politics into it, antithetical to the the passive enjoyment you were arguing before. And it gets its value from being an artistic choice, not to mention from punching up over down. It’s different to punch the same people again and again out of sheer inertia - e.g. making the women agentless prizes, the black dude die first, the Middle Easterners barbaric villains, and everyone more important white men, because who cares not to.

It strikes me as disingenuous, too, to paint this as needing things to reflect your particular value system as if it were nothing more than whining about monarchists in the Mushroom kingdom. You’ve been explained it’s about people finding characters like themselves consistently devalued as people, and that it doesn’t necessarily keep them from enjoying the work, but is exhausting to see everywhere. That’s what is being talked about here.

And like @Daedalus says, nobody is expecting you to go crazy and join the MRM, but passing over these things uncritically can numb you to them. Heck, right here we’ve had both @Mindysan33 and @ActionAbe express frustrations over how people like them are generally portrayed, and your reaction has been a brush-off about people having thin skin and screaming. That’s you having come to accept those portrayals as ordinary, and judging what others say accordingly; and that’s what influence looks like.