Why I Play Political Video Games

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I grew up in one of the least exciting places on this planet. Do you like faded trees and muddy fields all covered in a sheet of air that is impossibly grey? A significant lack of other human beings? Zero possibilities to pursue hobbies that required other people or transportation? All wrapped in a damp cold that seeps into your lungs and bones and never ever leaves? In that case I can point you in the right direction…

In order to get some variation and excitement, I turned to fiction in all its forms. I read like a girl possessed for a while but my favourite means of escapism has always been video games. See, books allow for your own imagination to fill in the blanks. Video games bring you a whole world created by someone else and you can modify it if you want to, but it remains entirely independent from you.

Video games do something no other form of media does and it is that they provide you with an incentive to progress. A book won’t refuse you skipping to the last chapter if you want to. Video games flat out deny you the remainder of the story if you’re not good enough. It is very motivating. It is far easier to get excited by a game than a book or a movie, simply because it requires your own involvement. Sure, you get the excitement of the story in any of those forms of media, but only video games can give you a feeling of success.

I had to buy almost all of my video games myself when I grew up and thus I was quite careful about the games I purchased. To this day I vastly favour games with a lot of replayability and plenty of hidden content. If I can’t get 100 hours out of it, I’ll buy it on sale. This means that I have a fondness for RPGs and Strategy games since they’re often the games that offer me the most story and/or the most replayability.

Looking back, most of my favourite games have had a political storyline. Strategy games like the Heroes of Might and Magic series are almost always somewhat political, so that’s not too strange. However, even my RPGs tend to involve politics. Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a strong political element to it given that it shows the impact politics and political rule can have on a nation. Every game in the Final Fantasy series that I’ve played has contained politics as one of the main storylines and it is probably the strong political element that makes me adore Final Fantasy XII more than all others. The entire Dragon Age series is political through and through, with elements like romance and magic thrown in for good measure. Hell, even my Visual Novel style games in my current Steam collection tend to be somewhat political. Hatoful Boyfriend is meant to be a dating sim with birds (don’t ask) and ends up with the main character being the tool of a political plot. The Wolf Among Us deals with poor bureaucratic rule and a population screaming out for political influence. Then there’s titles that deal with very heavy matters, such as ‘Papers, Please’ and This War of Mine.

It is said that politics is the art of the possible, yet that seldom appears true in the real world. In games, it truly is about the possibilities. About actually fixing things. Ending oppression. You know, all those things we hope politics will do in the real world and that it almost never succeeds in doing.

Naturally, they also tend to be a bit of a power fantasy. Not only do things get solved, you’re the one doing it. I don’t even have the right to vote in the country I live in and I’m subjected to more bureaucratic processes than the average person knows exist. It is easy for anyone to feel powerless, especially if you spend your time studying politics academically. There’s an endless series of problems and you’re either not allowed to fix them, or you’re simply unable to.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes its fun to pretend to be the dictator of a fictional world. Sometimes its fun to liberate a world from a dictator. But man, it just feels good to be able to do something. Even if it’s purely fictional.

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