Beyond Political Games

Note (2024.03.06): this post is over four weeks old and I do not promise I will be responding to future comments, especially comments that attempt to imply that I have some nefarious or chilling or malign intent by making this post. Frankly, I find discussing politics online to be largely useless. Nobody convinces anyone and since I’m Slovenian, hardly any English-speaking aficionado of online politics gives a damn about my circumstances, background or culture anyway. Thank you for understanding. —LR


I’ve been thinking how there’s politics in games and there’s political games.

An aside: a commenter pointed out that my term “political games” would better be served with “moralizing games”. In further conversation, I think another way to think about it is that some games “describe” politics, while leaving gameplay open, whereas others “prescribe” politics, that is demand a certain kind of gameplay. Both of these comments articulate my misgivings with what I call “political games” somewhat better than I did myself. Thank you.


I love games. I especially love good games. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a disappointing trend of game designers making political games—embracing political didacticism, preaching—a surefire way to reduce the quality of their games.

Let’s backpedal a bit.

In an earlier life, I studied political science. I remember political science 101 blowing my mind with the revelation that “everything is political.” Entrancing! Deep! A revelation! The food I eat is political! How I tie my shoelaces! My name! The name of a game! Words! Discourse!

Political science 201 should probably leaven that with “and in 99.99% cases this does not matter at all.” In my case the leavening was more life experience than excellent education, but I suppose that’s what happens to the worst of us.

I first found a semblance of roleplaying community* in the blogger blog scene of 2010-or-so. Then google pushed us all onto g+, which caused quite a fruitful ferment (and some weirdness). Then google killed g+ and much of the osr designer scene pushed into Twitter—right around 2016-2017, when the very loud and humorless politics ate the anglophone internet.

*I disagree that there is such a thing as an online rpg community, but that’s another post.

Around that time I noticed politics seeping into the roleplaying game scene I followed. Don’t play that game, the designer said the wrong thing. Play this game, it has good politics.

That second is interesting, and not in a good way, but we’ll do another detour first.

Politics in Games

Like I said above, in 99.99% of cases, whether a thing is political or not is utterly irrelevant. This applies to the politics of games. I do not, however, mean that there should not be politics in tabletop roleplaying games.

Some tabletop roleplaying games benefit from having politics, since they are doing with human* characters and factions and societies, and having believable politics gives levers to the players’ characters that they can use to interact with the imaginary world and change it.

*or demihuman. Same difference.

This is basic writing (and, by extension, roleplaying game character design) – politics are part of human life, adding political motivations to characters can be interesting, ergo.

The orc chief maintains dominance by providing treasure to his followers, if he is neglectful of this duty an upstart will more easily mobilize a coalition to overthrow him, therefore the orc chief is incentivized to acquire this treasure somewhere. The orcs’ target harvest the fruits of the earth and sea, accumulating them in storehouses to weather droughts and other bad years. Control of those storehouses brings prestige, but is also necessary to ensure supplies are available when crops fail or the sea turns sour. This sets up a political conflict between the orcs and their target, as well as within both the orc and target communities.

This is a great situation to throw players into because, by their nature, they are agents of chaos (or change, if you are feeling kind), and they will upset this kind of delicate political equilibrium, writing unexpected stories with their decisions.

Like I said, basic.

Political Games

The orc-target dynamic is interesting because it’s presented without judgement and with open outcomes. The orcs need treasure or their society collapses into factional strife. The target needs to accumulate or starvation and collapse ravages it in bad years. The players are free to interact with this conflict or leave at as a backdrop to their own more personal adventures.

But this is not a “good” political game. This is a game with politics in it, but it doesn’t say what is good and what is bad, it doesn’t tell the players what to do in order to be the “goodies”.

In a way, AD&D started the shift from a game with politics to a political game, when it took D&D’s factions of law and chaos and added the morality axis of good and evil. I think that reduced the quality and openness of the gameplay, but that’s not what I have in mind.

The popular recent trend I’m talking about is the designers, who seem to have taken a page from the socialist realist literature of 20th century, and decided to create political games that actively and explicitly teach “good” politics and encourage player characters to embrace “good” archetypes and perform “good” deeds and be “good” people.

Frankly, these games would be better if they weren’t trying so hard to be “good” in their politics. Why?

A designer has limited resources. The more resources they spend making their game political, the less they have for everything else. If they make their game political without investing any resources, they have just slapped politics on their game without thought, which makes for a thoughtless game.

If they are making the game political, because politics are important to them, they are being disingenious. Adding politics to escapism is not effective politics, it is play politics. Do they want to do real politics? That’s fine. There’s a place for that—politics. But making a game as a political act adulterates both their politics and their game. It presumes that it is a game designer’s job to be a politician. A laughable notion.

Are they trying to convince the players of a certain political viewpoint? Let’s leave aside whether a simple game should be trying to sell a political position (and whether that’s actually possible). To achieve that, slapping politics front and center is the guaranteed most basic and ineffective form of propaganda. Changing minds requires tact, nuance, empathy, and understanding.

But crucially, I think making games explicitly tied into real-world is just plain bad form. It’s tasteless, crude, and rather unpleasant. It shows a designer who presumes their political predilections are so important, so vital, that rather than creating a joyous toy they would create a ponderous lesson.

Frankly, I think we do a better job as people by saving our politics for the ballot box and local community, and we do a better job as game designers by creating toys that bring people together rather than divide them.

Good gaming, good human.

— • —

P.S. — if this blog post tempts you to write about why it is important to design political games, bless your heart and I wish you well.

P.P.S. – if this blog post tempts you to meet with friends, roll some math rocks, and wear an ettin costume as you sneak into a troll camp to steal Foesmasher and Biledrinker from the cave of the Wildwitch Wyvern, destroying the legitimacy of Big Chief Pedipalp and precipitating the collapse and dissolution of the militaristic orc federation … well done!

34 replies on “Beyond Political Games”

Once again you have given words to something that has been bouncing around in my head. Good art is born from passion, not a desire to program people with dogma. Thank you for the fantastic post.

I think you’re confusing politics with moralism. Which, granted, so do the people who make the kinds of “political games” you’re talking about.

Moralism collapses all the complexities of politics into “good” and “bad” and says, “the heroes should only do good things, otherwise this piece of media is a bad influence / is participating in bad politics.”

I agree with your arguments as they apply to moralism — “Are they trying to convince the players of a certain political viewpoint? … Changing minds requires tact, nuance, empathy, and understanding.” I strongly agree!

But then you say this: “But crucially, I think making games explicitly tied into real-world is just plain bad form.”

And I strongly *disagree* with that, because I think a genuine political game (not a moralist game) would be a breath of fresh air in the modern hobby. We’re heading into a very political year. There’s a need for sensitive art that probes political issues.

I think *moralism* “shows a designer who presumes their political predilections are so important, so vital, that rather than creating a joyous toy they would create a ponderous lesson.” Not a genuine political game.

Personally I have been drawn to matrix games recently precisely because of their ability to depict real-world, complex political situations in a way that traditional “party of heroes” RPGs cannot.

Though I’m tempted to quibble pedantically on the topic of whether “moralism” or “political” is the right adjective, I won’t because substantially we’re talking about the same thing and, after reading up some definitions of moralism, I see your point.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pedantic quibbles … but, no. I must resist.

I’m glad you disagree on the need for a “genuinely political game”. And I’ll grant you, a game that deals with politics in a thoughtful, nuanced way can be fun and useful. Even one that exaggerates political positions to spotlight their flaws in a cartoonish way can be useful as thought-provoking exercise.

You mention matrix games from game theory, and I think you’re spot on that some kind of games can be good for thinking through political choices and challenges. It’s a different kind of game from the traditional ttrpg though, and, yeah, you mention that too.

It seems like you wanted to say something here, but then you wrote around the topic, got confused and ended up saying nothing. I’m genuinely not sure what your point is. Maybe try again?

Thank you for your kind words.

Considering the kind of year the English-speaking internet is heading for this year, however, there’s a good chance I’ll stick to vibes.

Thank you for your kind and nuanced comment. I appreciate the time you took to post it.

Fair. I was being a glib jerk when I wrote that. Apologies.

To elaborate. I think you make a very interesting point on the value of limiting player choices from what they can do to what they ought to do in a more open/sandbox game. Other commenters already hit well on that.

My bigger issue and where I’m hoping for more nuance comes from the what appears to be the reduction of what you consider a true rpg ought to do, seeming to become prescriptive yourself in the process.

Note before I go further: I used the word “true” which might be overly antagonistic as I see you’ve used the word “traditional” in a comment, which implies you might have some subset of RPGs in mind, but that would be the kind of term-defining nuance I believe this is lacking.

The post itself talks about RPGs (seemingly broadly) as if their primary goals are to be fun toys for escapism. I think that prescribed goal is overly limiting for the medium. I will still probably be too narrow when I say that a better goal for games is driving enjoyment and that people can derive enjoyment from feelings other than that of fun. All other art forms have long histories of delving into the political, so I’d be curious to know if your stance from RPGs separates itself or if the stance is one more broadly held.

In my opinion, as long as people knowingly buy into the premise ahead of time, a game that is focused on exploring one issue or point of view can be an enjoyable, effective method of exploring views. This doesn’t even mean the view has to be left-leaning: Dogs in the Vineyard is about Mormons, John Company 2e is about colonialist capitalists even though both still have things the designers are looking to impart from the experience. Learning to embody another’s viewpoints and where they come from can be a valuable experience that roleplaying games are best set to teach.

Another, more fleshed out and straightforward example is Spire. Spire is an RPG that is focused on being a group of revolutionaries aligned in a fight against racist/classist overlords. It’s a pretty straight good vs. evil set set up and I would argue that the goal of overthrowing these leaders in the game is no more limiting than a traditional goal of gold for XP or whatever driving motivator a games core design may have.

Instead, the game about Spire becomes about how far your characters are willing to push themselves and what they believe in.

This might or might not fall into the realms of things you would consider political games vs. games with/about politics, but an initial read of your article makes it feel like all of these things would be looked down on.

I think it’s a question of my unclear terminology, which some other folks addressed when they mentioned a better term would be “moralizing games” or, as I paraphrased another, “prescriptive games”.

In a separate conversation I had somewhere else, we also hit on the possibility of (and I’m paraphrasing) the “one-scenario game” vs the “rpg system”, where someone pointed out that some rpgs are nearly designed to simply give an experience of one scenario, rather than serve as a broad system. That led me to the thought that a lot of what I find deeply annoying in rpgs that tell you how to play, I would find perfectly enjoyable in an rpg with pre-made characters throw into a difficult situation.

I think this goes to the whole point that making a roleplaying game (or scenario) that grapples with politics is hard and easy to get wrong.

Now, all the rpgs you list, I think fall into the category of games with/about politics, not political (moralizing) games – though I’m not totally familiar with JC2e or Spire, so I withhold judgment. Frankly, I think Dogs is a fine game, and both Spire and JC2e sound interesting.

… I’m sorry, I have to cut my comment short here. Some offline humans need me.

… so to pick up, pondering where I would draw the line, I came up with a rough rule of thumb.

1. Game designer has views on contemporary politics. (everyone does, trivial observation)
2. Are these views obvious in the game? (if yes, proceed to 3)
3. Would you expect a reasonable person with opposed views find the game obviously disrespectful and unfair of their views? (if yes, proceed to 4)
4. This game may be “moralistic” or if you want to be a bit catty, “a lazy bit of propaganda”.

There’s a corollary to this rule of thumb:

If you do not think it is possible to have opposed views and remain a reasonable person, you may be engaging in black-and-white thinking.

So, it’s a kind of rule of thumb that encourages humility and critical self-reflection, which is pretty cool.

(I’m somehow unable to comment on your final post in this chain)

I missed the comment on one off systems, or those single-track designed experiences, but I do tgis that is a strong distinction. JC2e is actually a board game, but I think the line between the mediums is blurred quite a bit, especially at the edges. I can get behind the steps through you listed, thank you for taking the time with me.

(I have no idea how comment chains work on wordpress, such is the cruelty of our machine gods)

Pleasure chatting and take care!

I think it’s fair to say that when you bake a moral* stance into a game’s premise, you remove the ability for the players to make that moral choice themselves–you end up with morality-flavored play instead of actually incorporating morality into the gameplay itself.

That said, I think there are ways of getting a good chunk of both worlds working in a game. To use a pretty direct example, what do you think of Dog Eat Dog? It’s an incredibly focused political RPG, but it keeps a lot of that ambiguity–it’s not a game with an unambiguous ‘good’ path you can follow in it, it’s a game that describes the corrosive effects of colonialism on all parties involved. Do you see something like that as falling more into the first or second camp you’re describing here?

* I’m using the word ‘moral’ here instead of ‘political’, but I think the overlap is pretty close to what you’re talking about? It’s all questions of “should”–presenting the players with a world and asking them what they think the world “should” look like.

*moral / political – Tim also offered this distinction, and though I have pedantic quibbles, I basically agree. I was trying to give word to a loose mood I’ve been having when seeing a certain kind of game regularly pop up in social media that seemed all agitprop, no substance.

Dog Eat Dog definitely sounds like something I’d put in the second category.

Your division between “description” (is) and “prescription” (should) is really spot on … better than my initial wording. Thank you.

What is this post actually supposed to be about? Some invisible bogeyman? It comes off as a privileged white guy complaining that other, less-privileged people don’t have the same life experiences as you do, so their wants and needs in media aren’t as relevant as yours.

As they say, “the poor people spoil it for the rich.” right?

Maybe get over yourself a little bit?

Thank you for the kind words. You have obviously thought long and hard before reaching for race and class as a way to label me and put me down.

Your friendly approach and message are sure to change minds and make for a better world. Keep it up, friend!

But what urged you to write this and post it? It seems intended to put someone down, but you won’t say who. And why do you try and do it with a smile?

Posts like this have a chilling and very real negative effect on a lot of people, no matter how amicably you try to say it, and I guess that’s the point. It would have been better if you just said nothing at all.

With respect, while you may feel I intend to put someone down with this post, I honestly don’t.

Finally, you are welcome to your opinion that it would be better if I said nothing at all. I will not tell you that I find your opinion chilling and having very real negative effects on me, though I do find it somewhat censorious.

I invite you to find it in your heart to widen your ability to embrace different viewpoints and values.

“I invite you to find it in your heart to widen your ability to embrace different viewpoints and values.”

–said the pot to the kettle.

“…preaching—a surefire way to reduce the quality of their games.”
“But making a game as a political act adulterates both their politics and their game. It presumes that it is a game designer’s job to be a politician. A laughable notion.”
“It’s tasteless, crude, and rather unpleasant. It shows a designer who presumes their political predilections are so important, so vital, that rather than creating a joyous toy they would create a ponderous lesson.”

Do you consider it wrong for a game designer to encourage a style of play? Do you consider it wrong to have rules that indicate the characters should be the good guys? Or the flip side, do you think it makes a game better if it encourages morally depraved characters? Or do you believe the only good game is one that does not do either? There are tons of games that tell you how to play… Those are called instructions, which you need to know how to play the game. Just because a game tells the player the *type* of character they should play does not automatically detract from the quality of the product.

“…and we do a better job as game designers by creating toys that bring people together rather than divide them.”

You have been dodging attempts to get you to reveal any specific games you have been thinking about. Can you name some names so we’re all on the same page? That way we have context for your position. I’m VERY curious what new game is out there that is so “tasteless, crude, and rather unpleasant” that it prompted you to write this.

Now, I’m taking a leap here, since you didn’t name any of the games you were thinking about when you made this post, and neither did you really spell out any specific quality to the game. But I do not believe any of these “moralizing” “political” games I think you’re talking about are meant to divide. I think they are meant to educate, communicate, and reveal from the viewpoint of either a facet of society that a minority of people fall into or some beliefs that those people hold. The fact that they give you such a visceral reaction is interesting.

“P.S. — if this blog post tempts you to write about why it is important to design political games, bless your heart and I wish you well.” Then bless me, I guess.

I invite you to find it in your heart to widen your ability to embrace different viewpoints and values.

I appreciate you have a different perspective and a lot of questions.

I will address one thing you say: “You have been dodging attempts to get you to reveal any specific games you have been thinking about.” I have not been dodging at all. I have explicitly refused to name specific games. I stand by that.

Finally, thank you for the kind invitation to find it in my heart to widen my ability to embrace different viewpoints and values. I extend the same friendly invitation to you.

Good reflection. As a foreigner (I’m Spanish) I am sometimes horrified by what you do (because I know it will come to us later) as much as I love the OSR role scene in the Anglo-Saxon world. It disgusts me deeply that my favorite hobby becomes another Civil War (in Spain we have had enough of that). But your reflection makes my day. Not the entire Anglo-Saxon world has gone crazy 🙂

Hey, I’m not Anglo-Saxon – I’m Slovenian, I just write in English. I was a child when the Yugoslav wars happened in the 1990s!

“We do a better job as game designers by creating toys that bring people together rather than divide them.”

Agreed, 100%

Very true, thank you for these interesting thoughts.

My reflexive response to this was “No, you’re wrong!”—and I do think there are a few dimensions to politics in games that you’re missing, which I’ll get to at the bottom—but after checking that reflex and thinking things through, I realized that, whatever I feel about the subject in principle, there aren’t any explicitly political TTRPGs that I think highly of. (Or moral-political, or didactically political, whatever we want to call the phenomenon.)

There are plenty of implicitly political ones around. I think pretty much every cyberpunk or cyberpunk-inflected game bears the strong imprint of William Gibon’s anti-capitalist politics, skeptical of technology and contemptuous of corporate power. Even then, though, I think those political messages are weakest at the RPG table. If you compare any iteration of the Cyberpunk TTRPG to the videogame Cyberpunk 2077 and to the TV (well, “TV”) series Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the (implicit) political message becomes more persuasive the more linear the narrative is. The show communicates, in a way that the videogame can’t and the setting materials in the rulebooks simply don’t, how cheap life in Night City is, how stressful and humiliating it is to navigate day-to-day life as a poor person, how indifferent the powerful are to the suffering of the weak, how few and dire people’s options are. Why a life of violent crime seems like a way out—an opportunity not just for fame, fortune, and excitement, but for dignity.

The videogame can’t in the same way, because although it does try to show (or tell) you these things (and it is sometimes effective, even sometimes quite moving), it’s always trapped by the POV of a character who doesn’t have to endure any of those burdens. Sure, narratively, V is mortal (is dying, in fact) and starts out a nobody in a big, indifferent world, but the rules of CRPG design and tradition dictate that 1) V can’t actually die or suffer meaningfully; 2) V will shortly end up with godlike strength, able to single-handedly topple megacorporate great powers; and 3) V is actually, literally the most important person in the universe. In a TTRPG, as written, this same essential problem, though tempered in some respects, is manifold: Yes, player characters might die, and yes, you can limit their power and the (nominal) degree to which they’re the center of the universe (although of course they’re always going to be the center of the universe from the players’ perspective), but now you have a whole crew of them supporting and empowering each other AND you have an unreliable interpreter of your vision (political or otherwise) standing between you and the other players.

So I don’t think the problem is with politics in games as such; I think it’s about what you might call a lack of faith, a lack of trust, between TTRPG designers and the players (but especially the GMs/referees) who will pick up their work. If the politics of your setting are implicit, your players might ignore or subvert them: Maybe they think oppressive corporate rule is cool and want to play as a right-wing death squad flying around and murdering all the members of the labor organization you lovingly drafted, expecting players to join and support it. Don’t want them doing that? Better tighten things up. Impose politics on the rules, not just the setting; hold their hands and tell them what you want them to do. And then we arrive at didactic, message-first systems with neglected gameplay and hamfisted settings.

Finally, to return to a couple things I think you missed about politics in games. You draw an analogy to the moralizing social realists of the early 20th century, and I think that’s fair (although we do still regard some of those novelists and artists very highly; didacticism works better in other media than it does in TTRPGs), but what about the utopian novels of the 1960s and 70s? The anarchist, feminist, and anarcha-feminist utopias imagined by Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Joanna Russ, the libertarian utopias of Robert Heinlein—they’re all a kind of “play politics,” which I wouldn’t dismiss as readily as you did.

It’s easy for us (especially in my camp, on the far left) to point out everything we find odious about the world as it is, to engage in “the ruthless criticism of everything that exists” (the ABCs of Marxism: Always Be Criticizing), but especially in the 21st century, we’ve struggled to articulate what we want, what appeals to us, what we think would work better—if we haven’t given up entirely (I wrote, just the other day, about the hollowness of contemporary left-liberal science fiction). I think fiction is a really fruitful way to explore those questions, whether it’s a very long-term dialogue among novelists or a bunch of nerds dreaming up a better future around the dining-room table.

Thank you for the long and thought out response! I can’t find a single thing I disagree on, but I especially like this paragraph:

So I don’t think the problem is with politics in games as such; I think it’s about what you might call a lack of faith, a lack of trust, between TTRPG designers and the players (but especially the GMs/referees) who will pick up their work. If the politics of your setting are implicit, your players might ignore or subvert them: Maybe they think oppressive corporate rule is cool and want to play as a right-wing death squad flying around and murdering all the members of the labor organization you lovingly drafted, expecting players to join and support it. Don’t want them doing that? Better tighten things up. Impose politics on the rules, not just the setting; hold their hands and tell them what you want them to do. And then we arrive at didactic, message-first systems with neglected gameplay and hamfisted settings.

I think you’ve succinctly condensed basically all I wanted to say in my somewhat rambling post.

On the topic of the 1960s and 1970s and later novels, though I think they’re “of the same tree” as the 1910s and 1920s and later socialist realists, I think there are nuanced differences and they shouldn’t be dismissed — in fact, I find them enjoyable to read and I find them enjoyable as an element of my games. But, your previous paragraph captures it: didactic, message-first games don’t make good use of either medium (novels or games).

One way I like to think of roleplaying games is as “empathy engines” – they put the players in the shoes of other characters in other circumstances. To my mind, a good game would allow creative, imaginative exploration of those circumstances. A bad game would put them in that situation and say, “now do this and this and this.”

Perhaps, and this is just a stray thought that hit me now, it’s akin to the debate on railroad vs sandbox play.

The fundamental difficulty with ‘political railroad’ vs ‘political sandbox’ is I think similar to the difficulty with the regular generic fantasy railroad vs sandbox. Basically, it is much easier to run a railroad when you lack sophisticated macro-level game structures that are robust enough to withstand a complete freedom of choice.

Now, when you’re the creator of a TTRPG, you have no idea what game the GM will actually make with your system (as I believe RPG systems are not games, but tools with which a GM (or group of players) makes a game). So, if you have political views you want explored in your system, it’s much easier to prescribe modes of play that guarantee that they be explored, regardless of GM ability or intent (this is of course, totally impossible to begin with IMO).

In any case, it’s difficult to distinguish the inherent failings of artistic modes (a political/moralizing game — even in the vocabulary there is some difficulty) from, quite simply, bad art.

I always like to imagine if the thing I was looking at was done well, would my opinion change? It’s a little tautological — if this were good, would it be good? — but ultimately, each work must be evaluated as its own thing, and specific criticism is always more compelling than general theory. I still love theory though. It’s a puzzle.

You make good points and I pretty much agree. The Political Railroad v Political Sandbox distinction is an interesting way to capture it.

Yes, dissecting a specific example would be easier. More compelling, too. Still … especially in this coming year dissecting bad art online would get heated. Brrr. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn.

“Are they trying to convince the players of a certain political viewpoint? Let’s leave aside whether a simple game should be trying to sell a political position (and whether that’s actually possible). To achieve that, slapping politics front and center is the guaranteed most basic and ineffective form of propaganda. Changing minds requires tact, nuance, empathy, and understanding.”

This section of the post sticks out to me a good bit, mainly because I feel this post largely ends up being guilty of the same issue, of lacking tact, nuance, empathy, and understanding.

I’m not even sure I disagree with what the post is getting at, but I’m also not entirely sure I know *what* the post is getting at. If the aim of this post was to mainly just vent about a growing subset of games (that I’m not sure I’ve personally experienced), then I feel it does a good job. But if the goal of this post was to convince someone to not create a moralizing/political game, well I’m just not sure how it was supposed to do that. The post largely presupposes that the position that “these games aren’t fun” is the one the reader already has.

“It’s tasteless, crude, and rather unpleasant. It shows a designer who presumes their political predilections are so important, so vital, that rather than creating a joyous toy they would create a ponderous lesson.” Does this aim to convince someone who disagrees? As I said, I’m not sure I disagree with the overall message of this post, but this section I’m just kind of left scratching my head with as to what I’m supposed to gleam. Is it just “The game is ponderous because it moralizes. It moralizes which makes it ponderous. Why? Because it simply is the way it is.” I strongly doubt that is the full extent of the message attempting to be conveyed but I don’t know what else to read from it.

As I said, I’m not 100% sure I’ve engaged with the kinds of games that this post is critiquing, but I struggle to imagine why such a game *couldn’t* be fun. I can certainly imagine how someone could make a miserable grueling experience with the premise, but that’s the case for any premise. A game I had heard of recently that I would guess fits into what is being described in this post is “Eat the Reich,” which I haven’t played but I have played the writers’ other works and know they can put out a good game. The game is pretty explicitly political: You are vampires killing Nazis in occupied Paris. You are the good guys killing Nazis, the Nazis are the bad guys, the message is very cut and dry and not nuanced at all. But from what I have read of the game it certainly sounds fun, much in the same way Wolfenstein is a fun videogame. Sure, both of these works lack nuance and are not readily going to convince anyone that disagrees with them to take the other side, but it doesn’t aim to do that. If you disagree with the moral premise of the game, then the game isn’t for you.

For something that is much more nuanced but still very explicitly political in the RPG space (And something I have actually played), Spire keeps coming to mind. That game has a message, a very very clear one about the nature of power, about class oppression, and broadly about fighting against fascistic forces. Spire is an excellent game though, and is not simply “you are good and they are bad.” Characters in Spire will likely end up doing horrible things to likely innocent people in order to survive, because they are engaged in a revolution and it is bloody and terrible. Spire makes excellent use of the medium of a game because it is player driven, because it puts players in the position of asking “what would someone be willing to do to get their freedom?” I would be shocked if someone said Spire lacked nuance or tact, even though the game does want to make a moral, ethical, and political statement. Is this the kind of game that this post is saying lack those features?

Thank you for your comment! I’m not sure exactly which part to respond to … it’s rather long. I suspect I’ve meandered over the questions you raise in some of the other comments, specifically about how to figure out on which side of sloppy propaganda vs interesting content a game falls on.

I would add, as someone with family that suffered from both the Nazi and the Communist regimes, as well as some small historical acquaintance with those regimes’ impacts on Central Europe, that I am rarely impressed by designers or writers who use those regimes, their atrocities, or their symbols to make a buck.

I don’t really agree with this post’s attitude that a work having a strong political bent inherently makes it bad. Many of best things ever created have very clear political perspectives. 1984, Watchmen, Metal Gear Solid, etc.

Also you can’t really claim to opposing moralism when you say stuff like “ I think making games explicitly tied into real-world is just plain bad form. It’s tasteless, crude, and rather unpleasant. It shows a designer who presumes their political predilections are so important, so vital, that rather than creating a joyous toy they would create a ponderous lesson.” When you say stuff like that, I can’t help but hear the voice of Fredric Wertham or Will H. Hays saying “Some topics are too taboo, too impure to be depicted or commented upon in this particular form of art.”

Thank you for sharing your views! I appreciate that there are different perspectives.

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