A response to the Ubisoft philosophy on video games and their politics

Finale Fireworker

Love each other or die trying.
Member
Oct 25, 2017
8,505
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If you're familiar with some of my older topics, you’ll know I've always really enjoyed approaching video games as literature. It's perhaps no surprise then that I would get mad online and write 4,000 words about how I think video games are important. But like I've iterated in the past, I'm not really an authority on anything. You are certainly welcome to disagree with me and I will not be so humorless as to take it personally. I am usually just happy that somebody read enough of what I wrote to adequately troll me. So thank you for reading, as always, if you can be bothered. Welcome to my thinkpiece nobody asked for.

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With the recent reveal of Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Ubisoft spoke with GameSpot to clarify that the game is not a political statement:

(Gamespot) Ghost Recon Breakpoint Not Making Political Statements, Ubisoft Insists Despite Obvious Themes

"We're creating a game here, we're not trying to make political statements in our games," he says. "We've rooted ourselves in reality, and you'll get what you get out of your playthrough--everybody will get something different out of their experience. The story might make you see different situations, but we're not trying to guide anybody or to make any sorts of statements. It's a 'What if?' scenario, it's Tom Clancy, it's purely fictional."

Community developer Laura Cordrey elaborated by saying Ubisoft is "always inspired by what's happening around us, and it's always our goal to stay authentic ... but the story does remain fictional."
This sort of run-of-the-mill corporate brand protection isn’t uncommon. Companies will often insist something they are selling has no deeper impact or importance beyond its immediate consumption because there is a lot of liability involved with acknowledging your product’s consequences. For this reason, companies like Ubisoft always try to walk the line between making their product seem desirable while also discouraging too much thought about the product or content.

This is something Ubisoft tries to do constantly. It is a normal part of the Ubisoft promotional cycle to announce a video game and then discourage any sort of scrutiny of those new games. This isn’t just a trend, this is an intentional and transparent party line. Even when faced with an absolute reality, Ubisoft attempts to maintain the veneer of neutrality at all costs because they believe this is better for business.

(Eurogamer) Being Openly political in games is “bad for business”, The Division Developer says

That's the point which The Division developer Alf Condelius made today, speaking to Eurogamer sister site GamesIndustry.biz.

"It's a balance because we cannot be openly political in our games," Condelius said. "So for example in The Division, it's a dystopian future and there's a lot of interpretations that it's something that we see the current society moving towards, but it's not - it's a fantasy.

"It's a universe and a world that we created for people to explore how to be a good person in a slowly decaying world. But people like to put politics into that, and we back away from those interpretations as much as we can because we don't want to take a stance in current politics."

(The Guardian) Ubisoft games are political, says CEO – just not the way you think

In effect then, Ubisoft sees itself as making games that have political themes, but are also politically impartial? “That’s right,” he says. “So [the player is] part of it, you speak with people who have a different opinion from your own, you test different things, so you can improve your vision of that subject – that’s what we want to do. We don’t want to say, ‘Do that, think like this ... ’ our goal is to make sure, after playing, you’re more aware.”

What Guillemot seems to be doing is drawing a distinction between games and other forms of narrative entertainment when it comes to how they explore and present political themes. While movies and novels tend to present a particular viewpoint on a political situation, because they are explicitly authored and structured by a lone visionary (a writer or director), games are interactive and therefore must distance themselves from overt messaging: are they simulations, rather than statements.

(Polygon) Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 “is not making any political statements”

Terri Spier (Ubisoft): […] And so should it be clear, we’re definitely not making any political statements. Right? This is still a work of fiction, right? Our job —

Charlie Hall (Polygon): Wait a minute. It’s in DC.

Terri Spier (Ubisoft): Yes.

Charlie Hall (Polygon): Your central character here on the key art has an American flag bandana tied to their backpack.

Terri Spier (Ubisoft): That’s correct.

Charlie Hall (Polygon): This is not a political statement?

Terri Spier (Ubisoft): Absolutely not.

Charlie Hall (Polygon): Taking up arms against a corrupt government is not a political statement?

Terri Spier (Ubisoft): No. It’s not a political statement. No, we are absolutely here to explore a new city.
First and foremost, I don’t think Ubisoft believes they aren't getting political with their games. They choose political topics, settings, and stories because these are the sort of vehicles that suit their gameplay and they find the topics marketable. When you look at their repeated PR on the subject, their position seems to be “we didn’t make this game with a specific message in mind, therefore it has no specific message.”


Ubisoft PR obviously denounces any political intent on behalf of the company, but their video games make political statements on their own behalf anyway. We get articles explaining this almost every time Ubisoft releases a game, but Ubisoft’s position remains consistent. You can find articles like this as recently as last week.


I think there are two possibilities here. The first is that Ubisoft knows their PR is deceptive and has no illusions about the political nature of their video games. If this is the case, their claims to the contrary are merely marketing meant to distance their corporate identity from any particular political philosophy. The second possibility is that Ubisoft genuinely thinks they do a good job at not making political statements and therefore don’t need to take any responsibility when it comes to the messages their games contain. I think the first possibility is rather sinister and the second possibility is rather dumb.


Ultimately, Ubisoft is a corporation and it doesn’t matter very much what they say or what they believe in this respect. But I do think it matters if players believe them. That is what this thread is really about. This thread isn’t a takedown of Ubisoft or their games (which I generally like). However, when companies try to profit from politics while also claiming not to participate in political messaging, I think it’s worth examining why they’re wrong. The most important media to scrutinize is the media that doesn't want you to.


Video games contain messages no matter what. Video games have weight and value beyond their sales potential. Video games have a lot to say regardless of if their creators do. This thread is about why and how, and also why I think it’s important to appreciate games for what they really are.



What is art?
This is an unanswerable question. The definition of what constitutes art is entirely relative, fluid, and inconsistent. It varies between time periods, philosophies, and individual critics. It’s also, in my opinion, totally irrelevant to this discussion. Rather than seek a definition of art that everyone can agree on, I think it makes sense to suspend the conversation entirely. Justifying art impedes conversations about media. Media is important enough on its own whether you think it is art or not.


Media is the single most influential and powerful human invention. We are uniquely responsible for its creation and, likewise, its consequences. Whether it’s a corporate advertisement, a government propaganda campaign, a religious text, an autobiography, a morning news broadcast, a Hollywood movie, or a cup with a picture on it, all media is created to impart on another human a certain image, feeling, or experience. Media takes all kinds of forms and formats but it is grounded by a singular purpose: humans create media to send and receive ideas and messages.


This includes video games.



Where do these messages come from?
Creators imbue their media with messages so that it can carry an idea or a feeling forward independently. It must speak for itself and elicit the intended response. This is true even, or perhaps especially, if the creator’s intention is ideological neutrality. Neutrality itself is a lofty goal.


This is the basis for comedy, which wants to make you laugh.
This is the basis for horror, which wants to make you scared.
This is the basis for marketing, which wants you to buy something.
This is the basis for propaganda, which wants you to believe something.
And more.


Video games function the exact same way. They are designed to generate a certain response from their player. Maybe it’s to scare them, or challenge them, or relax them, but no video game is designed to make a player think or feel nothing.


This must be accomplished without further assistance from the author. Sometimes the creator is unknown, sometimes they are dead, sometimes they are incommunicado, but at the very least they are almost definitely not there by the time you are consuming their media. The work itself stands as the lone arbiter of its own thesis. So while media may communicate a specific message or feeling very clearly, you usually can’t be sure it’s what the author intended. But whether the author intended a certain response or not usually doesn’t matter, either.


Imagine a clocksmith. Somebody puts great time, care, and effort in to constructing an effective timepiece. When it’s finished, the clock continues autonomously, carrying out its design, and the creator no longer has any input on its function. When you check to see what time it is, you are aren’t asking its creator, you are asking the clock. The clock speaks for itself. We examine media to seek a deeper understanding of the material – not the creator or their intentions.


Ehren Tool is a ceramics artist who understands and expresses this concept well. His work is heavily therapeutic, deeply personal, and a means for him to process his trauma from serving in the American military. Despite this, he doesn’t tell other people what his work is supposed to mean and lets his cups do all the talking. The only thing that matters is the consumer take-away:


Artist Statement

After my experience in the Marine Corps, I am wary of the gap between the stated goal and the outcome. I am comfortable with the statement “I just make cups”. I’d like trust that my work will speak for itself, now and over the next five hundred thousand to one million years.

The Creative Brain (2019)

I have my stories about what the cups mean and what the images are and what they represent, but I’m always surprised by how people respond to them and the connection that they have with them.

On the surface, this might not seem much different from the Ubisoft philosophy. Both entities provide their audience with images and ideas and put the burden of interpretation on the consumer. The difference is that Ehren Tool does not believe his work is neutral and inert on creation. When Ehren Tool says he "just makes cups", he is saying this because he believes his work has meaning beyond his own imagination and they are more than capable of delivering complex and personal messages even if they are not his own. He knows his work means something, and makes a statement, but does not hold his audience to his own intention.


Ubisoft, when presented with assessments on their work, says they want to get their audience thinking but claim to not have anything particular in mind. They say they just make "fiction" and "environments" and their work has no purpose or intention behind it. Any meaning it has is entirely incidental. I believe this demonstrates a difference in respect for one's own work. There is no video game ever made that is less complex than a ceramic mug. Every video game has something to say no matter what Ubisoft claims.



If intent doesn't matter, what's the distinction?
Game developers are inspired by all kinds of ideas and images that give their work meaning. Sometimes these influences are conscious and deliberate, like Cory Barlog’s reinterpretation of Kratos in 2018:
I feel like I’m so different from when I made God of War 1 back in 2003. I feel like having my son sort of changed a lot. And the fact that my dad and I sort of wrote the first draft of God of War 2, and here I am kind of taking on that role of a father. There’s something interesting about that part of the journey, and perhaps Kratos might be ready for that part of the journey.
Other times they are the result of unconscious or innate bias, like the strict depiction of gender roles in The Legend of Zelda:
Nintendo had considered the idea of Princess Zelda taking the lead role in a Zelda game to satisfy fan desire for a female lead character but “...if we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do? Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup.
Media is influenced by the conscious and unconscious alike. This is how media with no intended message can still end up with a specific political and philosophical reception. The feelings and ideas a game tries to communicate will not always match the experience of the player. Likewise, a player may experience or interpret messages the creator did not consciously impart. But video games, like all media, fail and succeed as their own entity once its been shared with the world.


Ubisoft claims they make neutral and apolitical video games. If this is their intention, they routinely fail, and the political response their games receive (positive and negative alike) indicates this quite plainly. Ubisoft claims they want to give players "something to think about", but they also don't have anything in mind. To believe Ubisoft games contain no overt politics or messages or ideas is delusional. If we take their claims as truth, this means Ubisoft isn’t conscious or aware of the philosophies and concepts their games reinforce. I like Ubisoft, but I think it is cheap and irresponsible to use political images, ideas, and themes without understanding what they mean and then have the gall to claim you meant nothing by it. At best, I think it's really naive.



What makes games different from other media?
A game doesn’t operate without a player. By mandating player participation, video games reinforce your immersion in their ideas. Game developers are aware of this and have challenged players on this subject before. System Shock, Metal Gear Solid, BioShock, Portal, Spec Ops: The Line, The Stanley Parable, Undertale, and other narratively ambitious games have tried to subvert the assumptions players make about interactivity and force a conversation with the player about how they respond to stimulus. In short, what makes video games unique in the world of consumer media is how interactivity changes the way the player relates to the experience as a whole.

Custom electronics, change sorter, wood, plexiglas, motor, misc. hardware, pennies.
(approx. 15 x 19 x 72 inches)

The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 4.00 seconds, for $9.00 an hour, or NY state minimum wage (2016). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine's mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglas box. The MWM can be reprogrammed as minimum wage changes, or for wages in different locations.
The materials that comprise this structure are almost identical to that of an arcade cabinet. You perform a simple mechanical input and receive a reward for doing it. The longer you do it, the greater your reward. There are not many degrees of separation between this machine and a typical arcade game that rewards tickets or a high score for prolonged engagement - other than the fun factor, of course.


This machine is a great example of putting a player in a certain position and letting them come to their own revelations and conclusions through their own input. People perform tasks far more complex and stressful, with far greater wear on their minds and bodies, for the same amount of compensation that this machine dispenses. This machine asks questions about the nature of labor and compensation and it’s up to you to think about it. It does this with one mechanic exclusively. This is the philosophy Ubisoft wants to embody, but does not.


Video game mechanics are just presses on buttons and sticks, but these mechanics correspond with actions and these actions produce results in the game world. By casting the player in to the narrative, certain actions and philosophies will be innately endorsed because completing these actions is mandatory for progress. How the game responds to these actions comments on the player's behavior. For example, if a game sends police after players and creates hostile world states if a player kills civilians, this means a player is de-incentivized to perform this action, even if they can, thus affirming the idea that you should not kill innocent people. If a vulnerable unit suddenly appears on the combat map in a strategy game, and saving them nets some sort of reward or recruitment, the game affirms concepts of heroism.


Plenty of messages and ideas are communicated through cinematics and texts in video games, but video games are unique in how they mandate player engagement with the ideas they present. Video games reinforce philosophy by incentivizing you as a player to engage in various concepts and every player becomes a temporary agent of whatever politics or philosophy a game imparts.


While lots of video games are designed with compelling narrative themes from the start, many other video games are designed with mechanics first and stories colored in between the lines. Damsel narratives were often used because they are easy to retrofit on to object-retrieval, for example. Military operations are used as backdrops for gun-based gameplay because it gives the player an excuse to shoot someone. The messages reinforced in these games don’t rely on authorial intent to take on meaning.


Ehren Tool just makes cups. Blake Fall-Conroy just made a penny dispenser. Ubisoft just makes video games. But there is more to it than that and it’s up to you to think about what this can mean.



Do politics in media even matter?
Media is an unrelenting torrent of influence on your worldview. Sometimes your response to media is conscious and cognitive and you can feel the gears turning in your head as you respond to a new and influential stimulus. But most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time people consume media without scrutiny because it is much easier to perceive all things at face value. It takes less time, it takes less practice, and is less individually challenging to just let media flow through you without consideration or reflection.


But the more media you perceive at face value, the more you run risk of taking things for granted. Receiving a constant stream of media stimulus that presents certain ideas to you will build up a frame of reference that makes these ideas feel normal, commonplace, and assumed. These expectations can affect your perceptions of the real world, real people, and what you actually believe.


Some people deny that video games are political as a way of distancing themselves from the rhetoric. Maybe they aren’t prepared to think of video games this way, or don’t want to, so they insist there is no merit or reason in doing so. Other people who believe video games aren’t political simply mistake what they are used to seeing as apolitical neutrality. But reinforcing the status quo through common tropes is equally political to something that challenges regularity. It just isn’t as disruptive to people’s expectations.


Interpreting the politics of media doesn’t always yield some sort of revelatory ideological insight. Sometimes the ideas presented in media are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they’re even under-developed or unfocused. But complexity does not preclude presence and quality does not determine existence. Media is both a reflective and transformative force. It takes human perspective and then perpetuates that perspective indefinitely. Understanding the depth of fiction helps us better interpret the real world and make sense of ourselves in turn.
 
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Crossing Eden

Member
Oct 26, 2017
23,229
Really good writeup OP. Especially enjoyed the closing bit because some people really need to think more critically about the media they consume in order to see the overall messages that always exist.

I hope this thread doesn't include nuclear takes like "James Bond films aren't political" or "political fiction isn't inherently political"
 

Bass2448

Member
Oct 27, 2017
503
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life. I think this is dangerous and leads to censorship. I'm not talking about Sexualizing minors in Anime as thats warranted. I'm talking about censorship with guns, blood, combat in general. Never once has playing games affected my real world stance on things.

Therefore, I am actively against using media as a tool to "change" the "thoughts" of the few people so easily manipulated/influenced.
 

JDSpades

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,452
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life. I think this is dangerous and leads to censorship. I'm not talking about Sexualizing minors in Anime as thats warranted. I'm talking about censorship with guns, blood, combat in general. Never once has playing games affected my real world stance on things.

Therefore, I am actively against using media as a tool to "change" the "thoughts" of the few people so easily manipulated/influenced.
What? Video games, as with all art, can have a huge impact on a persons beliefs.
 

Glasfrut

Avenger
Oct 27, 2017
1,169
Some people deny that video games are political as a way of distancing themselves from the rhetoric. Maybe they aren’t prepared to think of video games this way, or don’t want to, so they insist there is no merit or reason in doing so
This is something I have been trying to understand for a while. I have a friend like this - insists he games to get away from all this. Which is confusing to me because are people really encountering politics on such a scale that they need to escape? I studied peace and conflict in undergrad and graduate school but never found myself thinking "why is there so much war or politics in my games".

Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life
You've really never heard people say a book/movie/game changed their life? You've never watched a show, movie, played a game, or read a book that made you reflect on what you do or used to do?
 

captainmal01

Member
Oct 28, 2017
530
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life. I think this is dangerous and leads to censorship. I'm not talking about Sexualizing minors in Anime as thats warranted. I'm talking about censorship with guns, blood, combat in general. Never once has playing games affected my real world stance on things.

Therefore, I am actively against using media as a tool to "change" the "thoughts" of the few people so easily manipulated/influenced.
Honestly this comes across as pretty ignorant. It's been constantly proven that the arts, and yes games too if you don't include it as one, can affect people's outlook on life above fleeting emotional reactions at the time.
And when you say "few people" influenced by the media, this is honestly one of the most baffling points you bring up. Parties have gotten into power because of how they use media along with the exposure through the journalistic industry. This is not an opinion, this is a demonstrable fact.
 

Richter1887

Member
Oct 27, 2017
18,550
Nice post OP!

Everything is political, no matter how people put it. There is different levels of politics in each media but at the end of the it is still there no matter how small it is.

Take Rambo 3 or Rocky 4 as an example. Both these movies could be seen as some dumb movie about things getting blown up with a very cartoon evil protagonist (Rambo 3) or about an american boxer who fights a Russian boxer to avenge his friend's death (Rocky). But the thing is both these movies are used as anti Soviet propaganda and it should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it.

Rocky fighting a Russian in his country who hate him because he is american is political and contributes to the whole idea that there is tension between the US and SU. Rambo 3 had subjects like the Mujahedeen or the Soviet Union. The whole stupidity and ridiculous stuff happening doesn't mean there is no politics.

Only cases where politics aren't that prevalent is when you have fictional setting but even then there are surely something political in it no matter how small.
 

Mesoian

Member
Oct 28, 2017
10,412
The fact that Ubisoft puts out games with the Tom Clancy moniker and claims to have no political message in any of them is so laughably ludicrous...I don't know where to begin.

I'd have more respect if they just said "we're worried about how conservatives view us around the world, so we'll just keep pumping out shooty bang bangs over and over and let people shoot various peoples of all colors and beliefs without ever getting too specific as to seem insensitive".

Because this "we're not political" front they're putting up just makes them look dumb, because they're assuming that WE'RE that dumb as to actually believe it.
 

Mist

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Oct 25, 2017
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Really good and thorough thread, thanks for taking the time to make it. I agree wholeheartedly. I especially liked the part about unconscious biases and beliefs and how they shape and seep into the media we create. The impression I get from Ubisoft's PR statements, however, is that they simply don't want to be accountable for or receive blowback for any themes or messages within their games. I don't believe they are that naive.
 

capitalCORN

Member
Oct 26, 2017
9,551
The fact that Ubisoft puts out games with the Tom Clancy moniker and claims to have no political message in any of them is so laughably ludicrous...I don't know where to begin.

I'd have more respect if they just said "we're worried about how conservatives view us around the world, so we'll just keep pumping out shooty bang bangs over and over and let people shoot various peoples of all colors and beliefs without ever getting too specific as to seem insensitive".

Because this "we're not political" front they're putting up just makes them look dumb, because they're assuming that WE'RE that dumb as to actually believe it.
The crux of the matter is that whatever moral outrage exists, the wider response will be mild because militarism is a common topic that is treated with an abhorrently light touch.
 

Mesoian

Member
Oct 28, 2017
10,412
Are we bringing up any games that are not Tom Clancy?
I mean, we can talk about Assassin's Creed, a game series that, for the better part of a decade, was all about the aristocracy seeking out ancient artifacts of power in order to hold control over the masses, which is basically a one to one parallel for the billionaire chokehold on modern society (especially after seeing Warren Buffet's statements last week).

The crux of the matter is that whatever moral outrage exists, the wider response will be mild because militarism is a common topic that is treated with an abhorrently light touch.
Also true, especially in the states where military might is still shared with the same reverence we usually reserve for religious doctrine.
 

Locust Star

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Banned
Apr 21, 2019
248
I appreciate the long write-up, but Ubisoft don't care. Their PR strategy is to straddle the fences and create buzz and easy marketing by acting like clowns.
 

capitalCORN

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Oct 26, 2017
9,551
I mean, we can talk about Assassin's Creed, a game series that, for the better part of a decade, was all about the aristocracy seeking out ancient artifacts of power in order to hold control over the masses, which is basically a one to one parallel for the billionaire chokehold on modern society (especially after seeing Warren Buffet's statements last week).
The idea of the riche is the Templars, since the series sold Abstergo as THE mega-corp on the planet. It's mostly a story about little guy vs. big guy, but if there's more inference about killing contracts than what's surface, let me know.
 

Mesoian

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Oct 28, 2017
10,412
The idea of the riche is the Templars, since the series sold Abstergo as THE mega-corp on the planet. It's mostly a story about little guy vs. big guy, but if there's more inference about killing contracts than what's surface, let me know.
I mean, even before Abstergo, the Templars are Representative of the largest powers that be. The Catholic Church, the British Empire at their heyday of imperialism, The Spanish expansion lead both by the gilded empire AND the catholic church: Until origins and Odyssey which don't really define the assassins and the templars that well by design, it's always been about the proletariat rebelling against the 1% of the day. It is big vs small, but it's more the ideas of the people versus those with influence and wealth that can rarely be fathomed by the masses.
 

capitalCORN

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Oct 26, 2017
9,551
I mean, even before Abstergo, the Templars are Representative of the largest powers that be. The Catholic Church, the British Empire at their heyday of imperialism, The Spanish expansion lead both by the gilded empire AND the catholic church: Until origins and Odyssey which don't really define the assassins and the templars that well by design, it's always been about the proletariat rebelling against the 1% of the day. It is big vs small, but it's more the ideas of the people versus those with influence and wealth that can rarely be fathomed by the masses.
Yes, but I'm pointing out the idea that Ubi, as a whole don't have some modus operandi beyond the corporate pursuit of profit. Tom Clancy is a very popular franchise that resonances easily past it's bent because wolves as heroes is a popular idea. Simply stamping out Tom Clancy out of the picture is more dissonance than Ubi really wants, or can prepare for.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,236
Ubisoft makes these Generalized-ass statements so they dont piss off their conservative and right leaning audience. they need that white nationalist/birther/flatearth/gamergate/brexit money
 

Shy

Banned
Oct 25, 2017
14,111

Thank you so much for taking the time to make this thread. Finale Fireworker It's something needs to be talked about (which is depressing, as it just shows the immaturity of the medium, as well as everyone in and around it)

Unfortunately i have nothing to contribute to the topic, as you've said it all better than i ever could.

I just wanted to post in here, and show my genuine appreciation for the work you put into making the topic. Thank you.
 
OP
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Finale Fireworker

Finale Fireworker

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Are we bringing up any games that are not Tom Clancy?
I know there’s a lot of Tom Clancy in the OP. That’s something I should have mixed up a bit more. I don’t think the sentiment in the OP is exclusive to that franchise, though. Other major tent poles like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed are well within the scope of this thread. All games are, really.

Tom Clancy was just current. I think it’s a more realistic point of reference for a lot of people. The themes of a military ops series are more obvious to audiences and something I wanted to avoid was giving a personal analysis of any specific game. So staying near Tom Clancy for the purposes of the OP was just easier.

But to me this thread isn’t about Tom Clancy or Ubisoft specifically. This is about video games as media in general.
 

capitalCORN

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Oct 26, 2017
9,551
I know there’s a lot of Tom Clancy in the OP. That’s something I should have mixed up a bit more. I don’t think the sentiment in the OP is exclusive to that franchise, though. Other major tent poles like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed are well within the scope of this thread. All games do, really.

Tom Clancy was just easy and current. I think it’s a more realistic point of reference for a lot of people. The themes of a military ops series are more obvious to audiences and something I wanted to avoid was giving a personal analysis of any specific game. So staying near Tom Clancy for the purposes of the OP was just easier.

But to me this thread isn’t about Tom Clancy or Ubisoft specifically. This is about video games as media in general.
Look, if you want to say that gaming started with pong, then it's about competition. Conflict is at the core of it's relevance. It's just a carrot and stick situation. To take that further out to today, we see story now to frame ourselves in the action, but overcoming resistance is still king. Obviously there's the sandbox genre, like Minecraft, or the analogue of Lego. But even Simcity has player created destruction. The nature of play itself is constructive competition. If there is one dross of single player gaming I don't like is the disambiguation with actual competition, and simply achievement.
 
OP
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Finale Fireworker

Finale Fireworker

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Look, if you want to say that gaming started with pong, then it's about competition. Conflict is at the core of it's relevance. It's just a carrot and stick situation. To take that further out to today, we see story now to frame ourselves in the action, but overcoming resistance is still king. Obviously there's the sandbox genre, like Minecraft, or the analogue of Lego. But even Simcity has player created destruction. The nature of play itself is constructive competition. If there is one dross of single player gaming I don't like is the disambiguation with actual competition, and simply achievement.
I actually feel the same way about this. We agree here. I certainly do not condemn games for depiction of competition, conflict, or disparity. Fiction exists in a reflective, but heightened, reality. An argument you will never see me make is the common “ludonarrative dissonance” in Uncharted, for example.

So my question is, what about the above do you think is conflicting with this sentiment? Or perhaps I misunderstand.
 

capitalCORN

Member
Oct 26, 2017
9,551
I actually feel the same way about this. We agree here. I certainly do not condemn games for depiction of competition, conflict, or disparity. Fiction exists in a reflective, but heightened, reality. An argument you will never see me make is the common “ludonarrative dissonance” in Uncharted, for example.

So my question is, what about the above do you think is conflicting with this sentiment? Or perhaps I misunderstand.
Nothing in particular, other than everyone ebbs in their flavours. But I see value in input from the response, not simply response from the input. But gaming if far from this apex. The vast majority of consumption is designed specifically away from this.
 

FoolsMilky

Member
Sep 16, 2018
193
How the game responds to these actions comments on the player's behavior.
Thank you so much for this post.

I wanted to add something about narrative and experience construction and how it relates to incentives and systems. These quotes are from John Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" about Moral Arguments.

Theme is the author's view of how to act in the world. It is your moral vision. Whenever you present a character using means to reach an end, you are presenting a moral predicament, exploring the question of right action, and making a moral argument about how best to live.
A good story is a "living" system in which the parts work together to make an integrated whole.
In effect, you, as the author, are making a moral argument through what your characters do in the plot.
I understand that we commonly think of story and gameplay as the two "parts" of a game which is fine in this case. A traditional story as shown in books and film is inherently moral. Even if we consider some games to have almost no story, they still produce some kind of premise, some kind of setting and situation where something happens. On the flip side, the gameplay that exists within a game, all the ways in which the player can interact with the systems, tells it's own story as well.

In fact, I believe this allows games to be even more potentially argumentative because (as you've touched on), games are about systems where something is input and you get an output. The player behaves in such a way, and the game reacts with an outcome. It's a direct relationship regardless of whether the author truly intended such a system or not.

And if it wasn't already obvious, all stories being moral inherently means that they are all political. I hope people don't get caught up on the semantics of the word "political", but I understand that people have difficulty defining what the world really means.

Media (Or art) which tells any sort of story through traditional means, through gameplay, through its premise and setting, it's geopolitical situation, etc. is inherently moral. If you're telling people how to live and treat each other (moral), then you are inherently telling them how to govern each other (political). Just as you've said, a game is not apolitical due to a depiction close to the status quo, a kind of almost realistic fiction. I completely agree that depicting the status quo as "just fine and dandy" is just as much a political statement as any other if not moreso.

Again, thanks for the writeup. If I think someone might be up for a small bit of reading I'll link them to it.
 

Crayon

Member
Oct 26, 2017
11,118
If the games or art deliver political messages, the message is delivered. I don't think it is necessarily the helpful or virtuous thing to do to use your PR team to deliver those messages.
 
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Finale Fireworker

Finale Fireworker

Love each other or die trying.
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Oct 25, 2017
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If the games or art deliver political messages, the message is delivered. I don't think I don't think it is necessarily the helpful or virtuous thing to do to use your PR team to deliver those messages.
I don’t think you’re wrong at all. But I don’t like the denial in the PR. Most companies don’t comment on what their games are specifically about and I don’t want them to. If Ubisoft never said anything about the political themes in their games this thread wouldn’t exist.

But I do think it’s detrimental to deny the nature of your content, especially at such length and with such consistency. I think it hurts the way people perceive your work and I think it hurts the discourse. I think it encourages people to ignore the reality of the games they’re playing. Claims of neutrality and objectivity makes an argument about what the “neutral” state of a conflict is.

BioShock Infinite is a good example of this. By portraying oppression and rebellion as equal in their faults, it effectively insists these ideologies worth equal consideration. The issue for me isn’t that Ubisoft isn’t more forward about what their games are about, it’s that they misrepresent their games as apolitical. Their representation of what apolitical means is, ironically, a political statement.
 

HStallion

Member
Oct 25, 2017
33,489
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life. I think this is dangerous and leads to censorship. I'm not talking about Sexualizing minors in Anime as thats warranted. I'm talking about censorship with guns, blood, combat in general. Never once has playing games affected my real world stance on things.

Therefore, I am actively against using media as a tool to "change" the "thoughts" of the few people so easily manipulated/influenced.
What an absolutely weird take based on the OP. That and grossly incorrect.
 

NSA

Banned
Oct 27, 2017
2,923
California
I mean, with the Far Cry 5 reveal it was a big brouhaha that we'd be fighting and killing WHITE AMERICAN CHRISTIANS OH NO!

But it turned out to just be some wacky (EXTREMELY MULTICULTURAL LOL) cult, with very little actual social commentary attached to that aspect. We did get to hunt for the pee-pee tape, so there was that, but they made sure not to name names.

I am fine with how they do it, and I like it.

Ghost Recon Wildlands took place IN "Bolivia" but also managed to avoid any exact ties to anything real with clever renaming/etc.

What is the perceived issue with Ghost Recon Breakpoint? I hadn't heard of anything wrong with the premise.
 

Crayon

Member
Oct 26, 2017
11,118
I don’t think you’re wrong at all. But I don’t like the denial in the PR. Most companies don’t comment on what their games are specifically about and I don’t want them to. If Ubisoft never said anything about the political themes in their games this thread wouldn’t exist.

But I do think it’s detrimental to deny the nature of your content, especially at such length and with such consistency. I think it hurts the way people perceive your work and I think it hurts the discourse. I think it encourages people to ignore the reality of the games they’re playing. Claims of neutrality and objectivity makes an argument about what the “neutral” state of a conflict is.

BioShock Infinite is a good example of this. By portraying oppression and rebellion as equal in their faults, it effectively insists these ideologies worth equal consideration. The issue for me isn’t that Ubisoft isn’t more forward about what their games are about, it’s that they misrepresent their games as apolitical. Their representation of what apolitical means is, ironically, a political statement.
That's true. That's a point apart.I don't like it either. Statements that are nakedly untrue. It taints the discussion. It's insulting to the intelligence.

Considering the factors that I'm aware of, and the known unknowns as rumsfeld would say, I unfortunately would have done the same. If I'm the one or one of the responsible for this policy, and I was being cautious which as we know is from norm, I think I would allow this hugely compromised and dishonest message to be the policy. I don't like that either. I would have doubt and guilt. This heavily blunts my ill-will towards ubi, and perhaps shifts some to myself.

I agree. I just want to tell you what is going on in my head.
 

L Thammy

Spacenoid
Member
Oct 25, 2017
17,420
It's a little hard to find an area to respond to directly because of how thorough you've been, and I don't see anything that I really substantially disagree with. Additionally, I'm rather apathetic to Ubisoft in particular for whatever reason and I can't really cling to them as a specific example, although I think I've aware enough of their products and how they're marketed to understand your points. But it invokes a few tangential thoughts I've had over the years.

Personally, I don't think much of the word "art". The meaning is too vague, too dependent on personal definitions or feelings for the word to be of much use. Video games can communicate messages. I think that's demonstrable. Whether they are "art" is a bit of a silly conversation that often doesn't actually tell me anything as it occurs.

But the word has value. Art is a good weasel word. It confers a sense of status, an association with civilization and high culture. Art bestows these things upon the people who make it, who own it, who discuss it, who enshrine themselves within it. Without adding any actual practical or functional value to an object, the word alone can add incredibly to its perceived value.

I'm not really bringing this up to say that art is a racket. But I think it's integral to how the games as art debate has actually progressed; and, at least for a long time, had been kept in a state of adolescence.

When I say adolescence, I mean in a way such as how a child views adulthood. Children view adulthood as something to aspire to, something valuable. Adulthood gives them the ability to do things they can't do now. But adulthood isn't that. Physical adulthood is just something that happens when you age and is utterly unspecial, and you gain the ability to do things you couldn't before largely as a result of society now viewing you as holding responsibility for your actions, and society holding less concern in protecting you if you are incapable of supporting yourself. In fact, it was the childhood that had more value in that it granted you protections you didn't have before.

Imagine an video game hobbyist audience that sees that "art" status similarly to an adolescent looking at the "adulthood" status. Looking entirely at its power as a status symbol. If games become art, than the games that I have surrounded myself with get to bombard me with the benefits of that status. But the other side of that which they don't see is the responsibility; that if your games are art in the sense of something that communicates a message, it becomes necessary to examine what that message is and potentially evaluate a game on the quality of that message.

When games became art, the adolescents that cried that they weren't given serious respect for their toys went on to cry that their toys were being looked at seriously as being criticized for it. They didn't actually want adulthood, they wanted what they perceived adulthood to be. There's an element of wanting to regress in this apolitical games business.

So I feel like when a company makes this sort of apolitical statement, they're speaking to that regressive desire. Even if the people who make the products want to take responsibility for the messages they make and that comes out in what they deliver, the apolitical statement assures those who are afraid of that responsibility that they're okay to be and things should continue to stay in the protection of childhood.





One particular game my mind occasionally returns to it Super Columbine Massacre RPG. This was an RPG Maker game published soon after the 1999 Columbine shooting and put you in control of the two teenagers committing the murder. From what I recall, there was a ton of outcry. How dare someone make light of this tragedy by making a video game about it? How could they do that right now when people are still grieving and people are afraid?

But the thing is, if you actually looked at the game, it's very clear that the game wasn't making fun of or belittling the incident. This was a game that legitimately had something to say. It was primarily trying to talk about two things:

- What caused Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to murder their fellow students and kill themselves?
- Is there substance in the media's attribution of video games as the cause for the violence?

This game touched this subject matter because it was trying to examine it. It put you in the role of the murderers and tried to reconstruct their experiences to give you an idea of why this event happened; to suggest why they became this way. It isn't just a recreation of the violence, but of the lead-in to the violence. It looks at things like their psychological and personal histories, and the explanation they left.

A good point I've read about it, though I'm forgetting where, is that it wasn't a fun game. It would be disgusting if it was. Heavily armed people attacking defenseless bystanders isn't anything like what normally makes a fun game; it isn't challenging, it isn't deep, it isn't anything to show off.

Now, I should say that I don't think Super Columbine Massacre RPG wasn't worthy of criticism. It's my understanding that there were very significant flaws in their understanding of the details, perhaps due to the investigation of the incident not having progressed enough. I also personally found conflict in their message. That's the main reason I never got around to giving it a second look; I'd want to go through it with notes and check on its validity. I'll leave the details as I understand them here for anyone curious , but it's a bit of a tangent and it's already a gruesome subject, so I'll spoiler tag them.

One error is that the game flips the personalities of the two murderers. Eric Harris is believed to be a narcissistic psychopath who enjoyed committing acts of violence, admired Neo-Nazis and displayed a disdain for the human race. Dylan Klebold, on the other hand, was a depressed and suicidal youth that may have been encouraged by Harris providing a method of violent, self-destructive revenge along with his ultimate goal of simply ending his own life. In the game, Klebold rather than Harris that is leader and the straightforwardly violent of the pair.

The game places a major emphasis on bullying, which was a major consideration at the time. Bullying was supposedly common and rather severe in the high school. However, it's actually considered to be less of a substantial factor in the incident than thought earlier on. Eric Harris might have been a bully himself rather than a victim, and the two may not have been socially isolated loners, but conflated with a social clique within the school that were.

Looking at a critical level rather than just as a fact check, the game's attempt at addressing the idea of video games leading to violence probably should have been left out, or least done in a totally different way. The game is split into two parts. The first, which recreates the actual event, is somber. The Doom WADs that Eric Harris made can be found in this part, but that's about for the presence of video games in this part, and we look at many other factors in their lives. The second part has the two go to Hell after their death and eternally relive Doom for real. It was certainly meant to ridicule the idea that the violence was due to video games, and it may have intentionally been jarring as a way to emphasize how nonsensical this seems in the face of lives that contain many more substantial factors, but this second part feels much less respectful.

But to say that the game wasn't as accurate as it could have been because it was made too soon and the information is bad is a significantly different thing than to say that the game shouldn't have been made, that it shouldn't have ever had that subject matter, or that it was too soon for it to be appropriate. There's a certain legitimate reason for it to have been released so quickly. It was discussing the topic because it was important at the moment. Unfortunately, the passage of time has not made this a topic to be left in the past. The problems that this game was trying to discuss are still important today, perhaps moreso than ever. They need to be discussed.

And so I can't help but feel like this was a great failure within gaming culture. A game came with an issue that could not be more important, trying to bring up something not just for the artistic achievement of it but because it had to be addressed. It said "think about this." And people responded with "no, you're a video game." I don't know who to place the blame on, but there's that regression, where the actual effort to make something better than simply a piece of entertainment is rejected just because people don't actually want video games to be anything more than that.
 
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Finale Fireworker

Finale Fireworker

Love each other or die trying.
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Oct 25, 2017
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Thank you so much for this post.

I wanted to add something about narrative and experience construction and how it relates to incentives and systems. These quotes are from John Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" about Moral Arguments.





I understand that we commonly think of story and gameplay as the two "parts" of a game which is fine in this case. A traditional story as shown in books and film is inherently moral. Even if we consider some games to have almost no story, they still produce some kind of premise, some kind of setting and situation where something happens. On the flip side, the gameplay that exists within a game, all the ways in which the player can interact with the systems, tells it's own story as well.

In fact, I believe this allows games to be even more potentially argumentative because (as you've touched on), games are about systems where something is input and you get an output. The player behaves in such a way, and the game reacts with an outcome. It's a direct relationship regardless of whether the author truly intended such a system or not.

And if it wasn't already obvious, all stories being moral inherently means that they are all political. I hope people don't get caught up on the semantics of the word "political", but I understand that people have difficulty defining what the world really means.

Media (Or art) which tells any sort of story through traditional means, through gameplay, through its premise and setting, it's geopolitical situation, etc. is inherently moral. If you're telling people how to live and treat each other (moral), then you are inherently telling them how to govern each other (political). Just as you've said, a game is not apolitical due to a depiction close to the status quo, a kind of almost realistic fiction. I completely agree that depicting the status quo as "just fine and dandy" is just as much a political statement as any other if not moreso.

Again, thanks for the writeup. If I think someone might be up for a small bit of reading I'll link them to it.
This is the first I've heard of The Anatomy of Story, which I am keen to investigate based on your post. I'll definitely take a look.

Something you touch on in this post is something I originally focused more on in the thread before cutting it down for time (if you can believe this is the "short version"). You mentioned that people can get caught up in the semantics of what it means to be political, and I think that's definitely true. Even in Ubisoft's PR, you get the sense they are specifically defensive about their work being political in the context of current events. With the political tension in the world right now, some people think of politics first and foremost as current events and popular political values. This can be a roadblock for some because their concept of politics is the news and politicians and major issues rather than broad philosophy or ideology.

Sometimes it's pure pedantry, but for the most part, I think a lot of misunderstandings based on semantics are just due to different starting points. When I say "politics", some people immediately understand the context and some people don't. That was part of what motivated me to make this thread. I wanted to sufficiently explain what these terms mean. I don't know if I achieved that, but it was worth a shot.


We seem to agree wholeheartedly on status quo depictions. This is another thing that took me a long time to learn myself. "This is just how things are," I would say. But the status quo is not a natural thing. The world isn't the way it is, and society doesn't have the values it has, by some natural unbiased occurrence. "The way things are" changes constantly. Media from every decade reflects the status quo of how things were and it's always very easy to see where the biases were. The unconscious is a powerful thing.
 

Gentlemen

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,580
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle

President Theodore Roosevelt had described Sinclair as a "crackpot" because of the writer's socialist positions. He wrote privately to journalist William Allen White, expressing doubts about the accuracy of Sinclair's claims: "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth." After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt agreed with some of Sinclair's conclusions. The president wrote "radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist." He assigned the Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds to go to Chicago to investigate some meat packing facilities.
 

FoolsMilky

Member
Sep 16, 2018
193
This is the first I've heard of The Anatomy of Story, which I am keen to investigate based on your post. I'll definitely take a look.

Something you touch on in this post is something I originally focused more on in the thread before cutting it down for time (if you can believe this is the "short version"). You mentioned that people can get caught up in the semantics of what it means to be political, and I think that's definitely true. Even in Ubisoft's PR, you get the sense they are specifically defensive about their work being political in the context of current events. With the political tension in the world right now, some people think of politics first and foremost as current events and popular political values. This can be a roadblock for some because their concept of politics is the news and politicians and major issues rather than broad philosophy or ideology.

Sometimes it's pure pedantry, but for the most part, I think a lot of misunderstandings based on semantics are just due to different starting points. When I say "politics", some people immediately understand the context and some people don't. That was part of what motivated me to make this thread. I wanted to sufficiently explain what these terms mean. I don't know if I achieved that, but it was worth a shot.


We seem to agree wholeheartedly on status quo depictions. This is another thing that took me a long time to learn myself. "This is just how things are," I would say. But the status quo is not a natural thing. The world isn't the way it is, and society doesn't have the values it has, by some natural unbiased occurrence. "The way things are" changes constantly. Media from every decade reflects the status quo of how things were and it's always very easy to see where the biases were. The unconscious is a powerful thing.
It's a good book, and it's pretty "Story 101" so I think that most people should understand it.

Yeah I do believe you on the short version stuff, there's quite a lot to talk about here. I think the conceit for some people is the "I'm not really into politics" stance which gels best with the "politics are current events and changes in the status quo". Although definitions are always arguable, "moral" is the tip of the pyramid, and political, social, economic, etc. are all under it. Hopefully if you can show someone how all stories/media are essentially "moral", it should not be that far a leap to say that they are "political". I think not only misunderstandings of definitions get in the way, but once you start to perceive all stories as "having a moral", it can be a bit overwhelming.

And yeah, there are many status quo things that I feel we really take for granted. We have had shooting games for dozens of years at this point. It's so ubiquitous that we probably don't think about "Killing people at some point, as long as they're bad, is okay, and sometimes necessary" as a moral stance.

There's so many things you can believe and stances you can take on things that I think we take for granted when something matches up with the things we already believe or the way things "already are". The newest changes in PUBG for China (Among other media censored or banned in China) should tell those of us in the West that not everything we think or believe is so universally shared (There's obviously more to China's reasons for their actions but you get the point.)

To depict any situation in any light is to have a stance on it. To create a fictional, even fantastical situation and have a stance on it is still a stance. I hope people don't end up thinking that " To be honest I always think back to "Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue" and Pong as examples of the least political games I can think of. Except Pong is a game that is inherently competition, completely symmetric, and there can only be one winner. And Hello Kitty is a game where strange looking humanoids invade your town and you go around attacking them all to restore peace.

===

To comment on the inherent "competitive nature" of games, I actually think there's something to be considered. We think of many games as inherently about competition, or survival, that you must be "against" something in the game. But we're increasingly getting to a point where people talk about "beating" some games and "finishing" others, whereas back in the day it was only "beating". We have a lot more video games that would probably be better named as "video experiences". We have an increasing number of games that seemingly have little to no skill component, and you simply walk through until it's over.

These experiences are great, and I actually think it further illustrates the base types of experiences that we enjoy and the kinds of cases we build when we create those experiences. People may see Pong as a neutral nothingness, but in reality, not all video games are symmetric, not all of them are competitive, and not all of them have only one winner.
 

Scottt

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,368
Yes but let’s discuss the implications of this cowardice! Onward!
Great thoughts here, and the topic is something I think about a lot as well. But I don't think that cowardice is any kind of factor in PR presentation, because their job is simply to sell a game. To me, a PR strategy that denies political content isn't different from a strategy that claims it. When corporations present advertisements with some mild attention to social politics, it doesn't mean the corporation holds a certain ethical perspective.

But I suppose that's different from the object itself, as a product that appears to make a political statement despite its makers denying it. The PR choice implies more about consumers who want to purchase a product rather than art--kind of referring back to your example of the watch, which has the use value that tends to divide "art" from "craft"/"product." If a PR campaign denies that a game has any political import, that choice is because consumers don't want to see it included in the use value of their entertainment product, and so appealing to them increases potential purchases.
 

Thizzles

Banned
Feb 9, 2019
315
Yea i persoanlly could care less. I dont play a game and look for the political statements it tries to make in real life which is probably why they say its not making a political statement. I doubt most people care. Every piece if media is gonna make some sort of statemtment. Its the nature of people writing and creating stuff thats based on what they see or experience. That doesnt mean they have to market it as some grand political statement.
 

Eylos

Member
Oct 25, 2017
8,831
Wow, well written article Op, write some paragraphs more and you should publish that.
 

SweetBellic

Member
Oct 28, 2017
1,788
I'm all for the death of the author, but "everything is political," as is often parroted on these forums, is only true in the most trivial sense that anything can be made or interpreted to make a political statement. I think it was Harold Bloom who said something like a Marxist interpretation of Hamlet will tell you a lot more about Marxism than it ever will about Hamlet. I think this is often true of literary criticism: the extent to which themes and statements "reveal" themselves and are affecting is often commensurate to the intensity and development of one's own values and world view. So to someone who isn't particularly patriotic nor concerned with jingoism, CoD or Tom Clancy games are just a fun time and really nothing more. Less apathetic players, whether some patriotic blowhard or someone on the other end of the spectrum who is vehemently opposed to American jingoism, are going to be more likely to read political messages into the work, and derive a deeper sense of meaning, whether positive or negative. Which all goes to say that it's pretty myopic to suggest that something is political whether one likes it or not: just because a game makes a meaningful political statement for some or many people doesn't mean it does for everyone. Interpretation and criticism are creative processes that are often very much a reflection of the interpreter/critic, and I think that's where Ubisoft is coming from with its neutral stance on these matters.
 

Baji Boxer

Member
Oct 27, 2017
6,784
I'm all for the death of the author, but "everything is political," as is often parroted on these forums, is only true in the most trivial sense that anything can be made or interpreted to make a political statement. I think it was Harold Bloom who said something like a Marxist interpretation of Hamlet will tell you a lot more about Marxism than it ever will about Hamlet. I think this is often true of literary criticism: the extent to which themes and statements "reveal" themselves and are affecting is often commensurate to the intensity and development of one's own values and world view. So to someone who isn't particularly patriotic nor concerned with jingoism, CoD or Tom Clancy games are just a fun time and really nothing more. Less apathetic players, whether some patriotic blowhard or someone on the other end of the spectrum who is vehemently opposed to American jingoism, are going to be more likely to read political messages into the work, and derive a deeper sense of meaning, whether positive or negative. Which all goes to say that it's pretty myopic to suggest that something is political whether one likes it or not: just because a game makes a meaningful political statement for some or many people doesn't mean it does for everyone. Interpretation and criticism are creative processes that are often very much a reflection of the interpreter/critic, and I think that's where Ubisoft is coming from with its neutral stance on these matters.
Political doesn't have to be a conscious effort to make a statement. Of course one's world view is involved with interpretation, but a creative work is also a reflection of the creator's world view, regardless of if it's intentional or not. And our world views are shaped by politics.
 

FoolsMilky

Member
Sep 16, 2018
193
I'm all for the death of the author, but "everything is political," as is often parroted on these forums, is only true in the most trivial sense that anything can be made or interpreted to make a political statement. I think it was Harold Bloom who said something like a Marxist interpretation of Hamlet will tell you a lot more about Marxism than it ever will about Hamlet. I think this is often true of literary criticism: the extent to which themes and statements "reveal" themselves and are affecting is often commensurate to the intensity and development of one's own values and world view. So to someone who isn't particularly patriotic nor concerned with jingoism, CoD or Tom Clancy games are just a fun time and really nothing more. Less apathetic players, whether some patriotic blowhard or someone on the other end of the spectrum who is vehemently opposed to American jingoism, are going to be more likely to read political messages into the work, and derive a deeper sense of meaning, whether positive or negative. Which all goes to say that it's pretty myopic to suggest that something is political whether one likes it or not: just because a game makes a meaningful political statement for some or many people doesn't mean it does for everyone. Interpretation and criticism are creative processes that are often very much a reflection of the interpreter/critic, and I think that's where Ubisoft is coming from with its neutral stance on these matters.
I agree with you in the sense that our interpretations of something are heavily based on our prior knowledge, our beliefs, etc. It seems that you think that the consumers of the media may or may not glean a political statement from a work, so we can't simply say that a work is political because that isn't how interpretation works. But no one is really making grand interpretations of Pong, whereas we can easily find political themes in a Ubisoft game. It seems that you'd agree (I think) that some games tackle more political subjects than others. I think it follows that there's something "there" that facilitates certain interpretations and an attempt to figure out the "stances" of the game.

Ultimately, games may have very little moral/social/political/economic stance, but they have one nonetheless. Again, I think we all agree that some games feel that they're less political than others (obviously), but I feel that all games (and all stories) have a moral component even if it is small or nearly negligible.
So to someone who isn't particularly patriotic nor concerned with jingoism, CoD or Tom Clancy games are just a fun time and really nothing more.
I think I especially disagree with this part. One person, or even a ton of people saying "it's just fun" does not change what the work inherently is. Not particularly caring about what someone is saying does not mean that they are not saying it.

I think what we're dancing around is the idea that "If a work does not make a political statement then it is not political". But again, to depict things in almost any way is to have a stance on it. It's even possible to work something you believe into your media without even realizing it (especially when you make larger things like long books, huge games with extensive lore and complicated plots, etc.).

I think I completely agree with most of the end of your post. An interpretation is definitely a reflection of the interpreter. And I also agree that some people will interpret (or experience) something meaningful in a game and others will not. But I fundamentally disagree with the conclusion that I think you are making.

And as far as Ubisoft goes, I feel comfortable enough claiming that they are doing what they feel is best for their company. The OP was thorough enough to humor two interpretations of their actions, but I believe that even Ubisoft knows that their games are inherently political in nature, and that they may even make some bold political statements. But quite literally of their own admission, "getting political" is divisive and will harm your image and make you less money. I don't really agree with their strategy but I think I know why they're doing it.
 

justiceiro

Member
Oct 30, 2017
4,657
Two things:1) it's unclear to me who you hold accountable by the perceived message of a game. If in the end the consumer interpretation that matters, why should we ask the devs about their political statement?

2) while the game reward or punish can reinforce a idea, it can also reward contradictory things depending on your playstyle. The unique things on games is that is the only media where almost everyone has a unique experience. If you recommend a music, you are sure everyone will hear the same thing. If you recommend a book, also the same thing. Maybe there are cuts and addition here and there, but hardly there is any media with so many difference between every person experience than games.

You can actively avoid some messages in there if you want, a option that no other media give. In this regard, games are less media and more tools.
 

muteKi

Member
Oct 22, 2018
12,453
a sunken pirate ship
I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life.
Let me put it this way -- do you think anyone's going to be convinced of this claim?

I think it was Harold Bloom who said something like a Marxist interpretation of Hamlet will tell you a lot more about Marxism than it ever will about Hamlet. I think this is often true of literary criticism: the extent to which themes and statements "reveal" themselves and are affecting is often commensurate to the intensity and development of one's own values and world view. So to someone who isn't particularly patriotic nor concerned with jingoism, CoD or Tom Clancy games are just a fun time and really nothing more.
I will say this much: I don't disagree with your thesis per se, but I do think that you understate the potential harm that can be caused by normalizing something that expresses these attitudes as being "just a fun time". Not recognizing the ways in which pernicious and harmful ideas are set up to be palatable in the public sphere just leads to normalizing them, and making it harder to recognize the ways in which those ideas are more than just a fun time.
 

Shining Star

Member
May 14, 2019
1,385
I don't think there's anything questionable or unreasonable about what Ubisoft has said regarding the matter. That said, as with all art people are free to have their own interpretation of it and take different things out of it.
 

HueyFreeman

Member
Oct 27, 2017
4,062
Outstanding thread - agree completely. I think in a perfect world, we just cut out the PR element of things and let the games stand on their own power. I realize this is never going to happen, but it would definitely solve the problem. Certainly if this is the disingenuous way the marketing is done, then I have no interest in it.
 
Dec 14, 2017
746
Great write up and a great read, thank you finale. I believe Ubisoft is being sinister in their pr a about their games, specifically Clancy stuff. AC and and watchdogs certainly have their share of the pr deception tone too. Since it is a sinister position, it's also the smart marketing stance and the financially safe move, as corporate methods have always been. Ubisoft understands that for the press and in turn the general public, they can simply say ' it is not political ' and they'll be safe. As you described, they've shaped their image and tone as such for years now and have shrouded themselves with a curtain of scutiny immunity. As to how this will play it in the future or be harmful, we shall see, for the time, it's in their best interest to use topical politics as ornamentation.
 

Diane

Member
Nov 7, 2017
1,544
Brazil
Maybe I misunderstood you but I completely disagree with the idea that media can change how you see/think about things in real life. I think this is dangerous and leads to censorship. I'm not talking about Sexualizing minors in Anime as thats warranted. I'm talking about censorship with guns, blood, combat in general. Never once has playing games affected my real world stance on things.

Therefore, I am actively against using media as a tool to "change" the "thoughts" of the few people so easily manipulated/influenced.
I agree. I love blowing up people's heads with a shotgun in video games, but I'm against guns in real life.

I love fatalities in Mortal Kombat, and violence in games, but I've never resorted to violence in my life, and not once have got into a physical fight since my childhood.

Another example: I don't mind hunting animals in games, like Red Dead Redemption, but I'm absolutely against animal cruelty in real life.