Out of all the businesses within the $160bn gaming industry, it absolutely was indie marketplace Itch.io, with a staff of just six employees, that took the most important stand on Black Lives Matter. It collected over 1,700 games within the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality and sold it for just $5.
It wasn’t alone in making a considerable contribution. Humble Bundle raised $4.3m with the same deal, while Pokémon Go creator Niantic pledged a minimum of $5m and published an intensive plan for the way to combat racism within the company. Starting from vague social media posts condemning racism to delayed game releases and therefore the hesitant inclusion of Black Lives Matter messaging into game worlds, the response of most games companies to the world protests has been relatively muted, which is outside of those, though. The donations of the largest companies were dwarfed by Itch.io’s fundraiser. It’s been hard to inform whether developers actually support protesters or are simply motivated by PR concerns, saying something because it looked better than saying nothing.
A fact underlined by the limited representation within games themselves, the gaming industry suffers from an absence of diversity in senior roles, like many others. So why didn’t companies seize this opportunity to demonstrate real solidarity?
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The familiar phrase “Keep your politics out of my games” is the rallying cry of the reactionaries answerable for Gamergate, a 2014 hate campaign attacking those perceived as promoting progressive values in games, that is the answer. Where aggrieved gamers tip the scales of review aggregators by leaving thousands of 0/10 user ratings, the Last folks Part II, an unapologetically diverse blockbuster, has recently been the target of review bombing. The foremost extreme will label as “political” any game that contains a woman or minorities as playable characters. While these descriptors are ever less representative of the world gaming population, they require games to stay white, straight, and male.
It’s no wonder that the industry is nervous about speaking out with all this vitriol directed towards any company decision that would be deemed “political.” But how did politics in games become so controversial in the first place? While a unique couple of political ideologies is thought to be exploring, instead of condoning, that viewpoint, games don’t seem to be granted the identical latitude. The most argument goes: why drag the interminable misery of politics into our sweet fantasy if we play games to flee from the issues and drudgery of the important world?
To permit politics into gaming, it’s not a case of developers suddenly opening the floodgates. Games are political right along.
Fun as they are — plumber Mario (the proletariat) travels through green pipes (seizing the means of production) to require down King Bowser (the monarchy), in a very re-enactment of the Russian Revolution made all the more striking for Mario’s Lenin-esque facial hair and cap, and I’m not just talking about the undergraduate-grade communist readings of Super Mario. Many games, like Genshin Impact which you can use Genshin Impact codes in, tell stories of colonizing new worlds, stealing and gathering resources, rebels attacking social systems and armies defending them, in fact, they are seriously, explicitly political. Most pertinently, to exact justice with violence is what countless titles compel you to do.
Developers often pretend otherwise, yet even when games are obviously political. Carved up into a tribal combat zone (Tom Clancy’s The Division 2), and claim they aren’t political, they release games about religious militias raging through modern America (Far Cry 5) or Washington DC. It’s a sort of promoting sleight-of-hand, an effort to borrow the freshness of up-to-date politics without taking a stance explicit enough to alienate players or damage the underside line.
Gamers were organizing while game companies were cultivating vague responses to Black Lives Matter. Within the Sims, Splatoon, NBA 2K20, and World of Warcraft, they took to the pixelated streets. A social and political reckoning is within the air across the creative industries. I doubt games companies are able to tiptoe around the edges of politics for much longer.