Make Video Games Great Again
When video games and politics (unnecessarily) mix.
Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?
Nicholas: Well, it’s been a little while since our last article but over the past two months we’ve been seeing a whole host of gaming topics that I can’t wait to dive into. This week I wanted to delve into a topic that we’ve spoken about in the past, but for different reasons. It was recently announced that a number of (albeit smaller) gaming developers had decided to drop their support for Oculus Rift after a report was released claiming that Palmer Luckey, founder of the company, had donated money towards a pro-Trump campaign.
In the past we’ve spoken about Community Managers being fired over comments they’ve made on social media, but I wanted to ask you whether the case with Luckey (ironic isn’t it?) above is something similar or on a whole other scale.
So to kick things off, what are your thoughts on the situation as a whole? Is it logical that a (gaming) company would decide to withdraw support for another company due to the political opinions of an employee? Has what Luckey done even that controversial?
Andy: Ugh, I can’t even get away from politics talking to you! I am so sick of hearing about politics, about Trump, Clinton and everything else that seems to be an easy talking point to rile up one side or the other. People seem to go out of their way to be offended by something that someone says or does now. They want to find faults with every action someone they don’t like, or agree with, makes. People stopped acting like adults a long time ago and it’s sad. This whole political cycle has been nothing more than one temper tantrum after another. Insult after insult. No-one cares about working together to make real progress, everyone is out for themselves and their own special interests.
Now that I got that out of the way let’s hit the meat of the topic. What do I think about the situation of developers pulling their games from a platform? Honestly, I don’t care. If someone wants to pull a game based on someone supporting a certain political party it’s fine by me. Whatever makes them sleep better at night. At the end of the day video games are about making money, and the best way to make money is to get your game in front of as many gamers as you can. So, for an indie developer to pull their game from a platform based on political views doesn’t make much sense to me. Yet, here’s the beauty of it. They are 100% free to do what they want, just like Mr. Luckey is free to do what he wants. It’s not my job to tell anyone what is right or wrong, but that’s how a lot of people seem to be. If a certain view doesn’t match theirs then everyone else is the spawn of Satan and the world is going to burn. If Scruta Games wants to pull their game from Oculus I’m sure there’s at least one person who will be sad that Computer Janitor VR won’t be released.
Here’s how I see things like this. Someone doesn’t agree with someone’s political views so they make sure the media knows that they are throwing a tantrum thereby themselves making a political statement. So, hypothetically if a potential gamer is a Trump supporter do they then not buy the game because the developer complained about someone else being a Trump supporter? It’s just idiotic how adults can act like this. So, that’s my pull no punches view, what’s your take on it. You’re on the other side of the globe what’s your opinion from down there?
Nicholas: To me it all seems childish, but not because it’s someone taking a stand for believing in what they feel is ‘right’, but rather because I can’t help but see the business side of it all. You made a very good comment by mentioning that the media has to get involved in the story, and that to me is the telling point in all this. An indie developer can pull support for Oculus in their game and in reality the world doesn’t have to, and nor should it, care. After all, it’s not to suggest that the developer is ruling out VR support, it’s just support for one manufacturer of the VR technology. Instead, they’ve made a point to publicise it to the world, and it’s for one main reason – they want to use it as a way to boost attention and sales to their product.
I understand that the video game industry is big business, but it comes across as immature to me when a company so clearly wants to use the “we stand up for what is right” line as a way to potentially entice gamers to buy their product. It’s their hope of some gamers thinking, “hey, these guys decided to stick it to that bigot Trump, I’ll flick them a few of my dollars in support” and it’s somewhat lame really. I have no hat to throw in this entire political game, but it seems so obvious that this is what is happening.
I hate to use the phrase because it’s just ridiculous, but often we talk about the gaming community becoming “too politically correct”, and this entire situation seems like a perfect example. What do you think though, am I being perhaps too cynical or does it give off a similar vibe to you? When these stories get published does it seem like some developers are trying to generate any hype they can, snooping as low as they possibly can?
Andy: I think a big part of it is just generating news so people will talk about the studio and logically the games they are making. I mean how many people knew who Scruta Games were before that article? I can’t imagine there is a huge player base demanding the first 30 minutes of gameplay for Computer Janitor VR. But credit where it’s due I guess, Scruta Games succeeded in getting talked about.
I don’t think this is really a case of being politically correct in so much as it’s more of a case of thinking, “My way is the right way and if you don’t think like me you’re wrong.” In this case some indie developers don’t like that Palmer Luckey, with money he earned, has supported something he believes in. Stripping away all the headline-grabbing names and boiling it down to the issue at hand, that’s exactly what this is. Luckey is supporting something that he wants to support with his own personal money. Period. End of story. This isn’t Oculus Rift supporting either political party (as far as I know). It’s one person who happens to be one of the founders of Oculus acting on his own. But, people are trying to make it more than that and use it to their advantage.
I want to completely flip this around though. As I read that article something popped into my head and if I didn’t ask you about it I’d feel like we are doing this topic a disservice. What do you think the response would be if the situation was reversed? Meaning Scruta Games made a huge donation to Trump and Oculus, not believing in Trump for whatever reason, then said “Since you support Trump we will no longer allow you to release your game on Oculus.” What do you think the response would be for that? It’s just the other side of the coin, so it would be OK right?
Nicholas: It’s funny you ask that. Initially when I read that question I didn’t really get taken back by it, and then I started to ask myself why that was. The more I think about it though, the difference is that we’re no longer talking about an individual supporting a cause (whatever that cause may be) but rather the company itself. I think this presents itself as a whole other situation. If an employee at Electronic Arts supports same-sex rights you’d typically expect people to give that individual a thumbs-up, but nothing further towards EA. After all, the views of one should not represent the views of an entire company. Alternatively though, if EA had an initiative to support same-sex rights then it’s a different kettle of fish. It’s a company-wide stance and that should impact the public’s view of it and their products.
I wanted to move away from American politics though and discuss something a little different. Australian politics. Actually, let me rephrase that. What I mean is I want to discuss Forza Horizon 3. How does that make sense you might ask? Well I thought the same thing until I read the following article. In short, and I’ll forgive everyone should they decide not to follow the link, the writer goes on the discuss how Forza Horizon 3 paints a picture of Australia that is far more vibrant and enjoyable than what it actually is, citing current political decisions and social problems as “Forza Horizon 3 is showing a better Australia than what we deserve.” It’s this that I wanted us to really delve into this week.
After you read the article I wanted to get your thoughts on it all. I’m not discounting the current political problems we have at the moment, but it seems like meshing politics and video games, when they so clearly are not related, is nothing short of generating negative attention when it isn’t warranted. I also feel that with the media coverage that FH3 is currently receiving, that to suggest Australia as a whole is bleaker than what the game portrays is, dare I say, disrespectful and offensive?
I don’t mean to sound patriotic and excuse me if I do, but in the same what as me saying America as a whole is horrible because of Trump, is it not just as ridiculous to make sweeping statements about an entire country and its people because of the actions of a few? What are your thoughts?
Andy: I have to be honest, I read that three times. Not sure why I subjected myself to the third time – but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious. After the third time reading it I still have no idea why the author of that piece decided to go on that tangent. It seems very odd to me that an article about a game, and a well-received one at that, would try to force his own political agenda into an piece about a racing title is beyond me.
I mean a racing game is the epitome of an E for Everyone rating. No violence, no drugs and no risqué behaviours. It’s just getting in a car and trying to be the fastest one in the pack. As you do you unlock upgrades to your festival to have a more fun experience. How that translates to politics is beyond me. The title of the piece couldn’t be anymore clickbait either. Is the author implying that Australians only deserve misery and not celebrating their beautiful country? Because that’s sure how it comes across. To flip it to this side of the world, imagine if someone wrote a piece on Fallout 4 and said “This is the America that Americans deserve.”
Let’s make no mistake about it, there is a time and a place for political discussion. I personally don’t care about politics because the politicians will do whatever they want anyway. But, in an article about a racing game, in a country that is very rarely featured in a video game, is most certainly not the place for political discussion in my opinion. If a game was a hard hitting game about social issues, oppression, hate crimes, or whatever sure you can sprinkle some of that into it – but not a racing game that’s really celebrating your country.
You said something at the start of this week’s discussion that I wanted to come back to. With the Scruta Games and the author of the article we touched on, are these examples more of people trying to get attention. Get those every so valuable clicks, and follow the line of thinking that anytime you can get someone talking about you is a good thing? I can’t think of any other objective reason behind these types of things other than that. Am I wrong here?
Nicholas: That’s just it isn’t it? It’s difficult to truly understand what’s going on when you look at the kind of conversations and articles being written out of some of the larger gaming sites. We started this week’s topic discussing small indie developers pulling support for Oculus in their games based off the political opinions of one of their employees (his title really shouldn’t be relevant). We’ve now just touched on another article that essentially tears Australia to shreds and linking it back to a new racing game, with fairly generalised statements about the country and its people.
Now I don’t want to sound hypocritical and generalise the industry myself here, but does it not seem to you like we’re seeing more of these negative and dare I say more self-deprecating pieces being published? I think there’s certainly a platform for discourse on these topics, but too often than not is there just a quick comment made about certain important topics with no real ability for rebuttal?
Cash in point, there was an article written against the VICE piece we discussed before, suggesting that the discussion of politics in an article about FH3 was misplaced. One of the tweets from a prominent member of the Australian (and by association international) gaming journalism scene tweeted it out with the comment, “Do you live in Australia? No? Because I do, & that article made me feel something, & I think you should STFU.”
We speak about professionalism in the industry so often, and for someone with arguably a level of pull to merely tell someone to “STFU” because they disagree, does it not seem childish? Once again, to not paint all members of the community with a single brush, do you think behaviour like this is telling of what the current state of journalism is?
Andy: Oh, I most certainly think is how a good deal of journalism is right now. Not just video game journalism but all journalism. The trend in many sectors of journalism is negativity gets clicks. Negativity gets people talking. And by default that same negativity then breeds more readers. So on one hand it’s a winning formula and creates the revenue that those sites are looking for. Yet, on the other hand it just creates angst and most of the time doesn’t serve any real purpose other than to get people riled up. Merely pissing people off for the sake of pissing them off doesn’t do a whole lot of anything.
That piece on FH3 is a great example of it. After reading it what is the reader supposed to do? There’s no push for social change because the author just wanted to voice his own beliefs. He basically said “Things are bad.” But didn’t offer solutions, or ideas on how to improve things. Then you circle back to the actual Forza content in the piece and I think he liked it, but I’m not sure because he couldn’t do an easy Bucket List challenge without leaving a parking lot. That’s the rub with a lot of these “shock value” pieces, they don’t offer solutions. They either just want to point out how bad something is, or they want to make sure that they point out how bad someone is to take heat off themselves. Lastly a lot of these pieces try to attach themselves to something legitimate in hopes of getting more views. Both the VICE piece and the Indie developers are perfect examples of that.
At the end of the day there is an audience out there for every type of article. If you want to write a political piece, or make a political statement that’s fine. But do so in the appropriate way. There is no need to piggyback on something else to make your statement if your statement has merit. Opinions are fine, and I have no problem reading opinion pieces when I know going into that just what they are. Hiding behind a thin veil in order to get more clicks is dishonest. Like we’ve both said there is a time and a place to make statements, talk politics, and discuss the world’s issues – we can’t deny that. Use the appropriate platform and be honest with why you’re doing it. Don’t just do it to get attention, because then you become a whole other issue yourself.
Here we are writing about politics and all the crap that goes with it and we write for a gaming site. Games are meant to be fun right? Let’s not screw that up by bringing politics into it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go play some Forza Horizon 3 and explore Australia and appreciate the beauty of the country.