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.

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