Games are never innocent

The following essay is based on the third part of my keynote speech at the FROG conference 2017 on October, 14th 2017 at the Wiener Rathaus. The first part „Keep your Politics out of my games!“ can be found here, as well as impromtu replies by Tobias Winnerling and Robert Heinze. The second part “On political communication in digital games” can be found here.

Political mythologies in digital Games

by Eugen Pfister

When analysing the different possible  aspects of political communication in video games I am most interested in those aspects that are normally ignored; political statements that are easily overlooked and therefore most of the time not questioned: aspects of the political, that are not per se “hidden”, but at the same time not consciously acknowledged. Political messages that dissimulate as “natural” components of a given genre for example, that  claim to always have been part of these games. Think of the predominance of war and conflict in video game mechanics for example. We commonly hear that the merger of game and conflict is a natural, a historical constant. Bataille navale, chess,  go, etc. etc. The Prussian “Kriegsspiel” is mis en scene as a direct ancestor to “America’s army”… It is suggested to be natural, that a large part of all new video games center on war, battles, armed conflict, etc. But what about early prehistoric role playing, what about gyan chauper ( the forebear of our snakes and ladders), a game intended to teach morality? If a presumed “common sense” answer to a question is suspiciously simple, we should at least take the time to verify or falsify the answer.  The french philosopher Roland Barthes did exactly that when writing his “mythologies” in the 1950s.

Games are never innocent weiterlesen

The casual is political

“Gamification as a prime example of Foucauldian governmentality”

by Robert Heinze*

[The following text was written in response to  „Keep your Politics out of my games!“  as well as the impromtu reply by Tobias Winnerling.]

“If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade.”

– Jane McGonigal: Videogames for a Better World, TED Talk, 2010.


Games, as all popular media, are a diversion. That doesn’t mean they can’t convey political ideologies, as Eugen Pfister has argued. And even the fact alone that they are a diversion makes them political, Tobias Winnerling answered. As part of the culture industry, they remind us of the old roman saying of panem et circenses, or, to (horribly) paraphrase Adorno and Horkheimer: Kratos in the games gets his beating so that the players can get used to the same treatment. The significance of casual, short-time diversion in a society characterised by fragmentation of private time and the blurring of the border between work and leisure is obvious; as is the relevance of Winnerling’s argument about the political role of such a diversion. But the influence of casual games on our society goes further. The casual is political weiterlesen