Games as political weapons

For my thesis, I studied the effects of exposure to model systems on players’ reactions to similar real-world systems, and there appear to be possible links. The strongest links, though, seem to be educational.

Readers of stories by George Orwell or Charles Dickens or Ayn Rand can be powerfully influenced, but not to the same extent as those actually experiencing and interacting with such a world in a close-to-realistic setting. Skyrim drops the player in the middle of a war between nationalists and an occupying force, and forcing the player to consider his views by making him choose a side. Minecraft exposes players to a free reign over resources, and complete self-determination. A similar approach could be used to, say, expose citizens of oppressed countries to the ideas of liberty and democracy, in subtle and potent ways.

Strategy games present simplified models of government and economies, allowing players to explore their systems and draw from them their own conclusions about politics and economics. They teach players about the relationships between economy, military and state. Civilization and Rise of Nations put the player in charge of balancing resources and deciding when to sacrifice for the war effort. I personally plan to extend this idea, and design a game which teaches players about the Broken Window Fallacy with regards to war.

First-person shooter games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, where politics provide only a narrative backdrop to the action, may teach and re-create political scenarios, but probably won’t do much to enlighten players and coax them to a particular ideology. Those games’ players are enthralled by the shooting and violence, appreciating the flavor given by political narrative, but probably not critically analyzing policy and philosophy. The mechanics simply don’t lend themselves to thinking outside the action.

More than anything, games seem to have the power to teach, rather than to directly influence. I personally believe in a marketplace of ideas, and to that end, the spreading and teaching of a variety of ideas is a pretty substantial power that games possess.


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