The Fallacy Of "Keep Your Politics Out Of My Video Games"

It can often feel as though some people who like video games want to have it both ways: They want games to be taken seriously and acknowledged as an exciting artistic medium, but the moment someone critiques a game's politics they respond, as if cued by an invisible conductor: "It's just a game! Stop taking it so seriously!"


It's a conflict that's likely familiar to anyone who cares about and engages in the broader video game discussion. And while most of us have figured out the fallacy evidenced by those two incompatible mindsets—heck, we've argued similar points here, from time to time—I still liked this video from Errant Signal video essayist Christopher Franklin breaking it all down.

In the video, he looks at the disconnect that still runs through the core of a lot of mainstream games discussion while rightly pointing out how politics already infuse a ton of mainstream games, from BioShock Infinite and GTA V to Civilization and SimCity. It's a useful encapsulation of the issue, particularly for those who might not be as familiar with it as those of us who hunker down in the rhetorical trenches every day.

You can read a full transcript here, and check out Franklin's other video essays on his YouTube channel.



The fallacy of his argument is that it presupposes a false dichotomy. Either games cannot express meaningful things, or they must express meaningful things which are divisive. That is not so, not by a long shot. Look at a game like The Walking Dead. There's no politics in that game. There is no agenda that the developers are trying to speak to. There are ethical dilemmas, to be sure, but not ones where one side is portrayed as right or wrong. They are both presented as equally valid perspectives one might take, without judging the player or expressing a viewpoint to be judged by others. And that is one of the most powerful games I have ever played, because it speaks to the core of our humanity - the part we all share, irrespective of our various beliefs on this or that divisive issue.

The argument presented in the article is based upon a false premise, and it cannot stand. I both want games to present me with serious themes, and not stir up controversy. I play games to escape the controversy of the real world, not to be reminded of it by half of the game journalists in existence every time something happens that gets someone's dander up (rightly or wrongly). Leave that stuff out of my outlet to escape the frustrations of the rest of the world, thank you very much.