Why are video games becoming more political

Gaming policy: "Video games depict our worldview"

Video games have not only arrived in society, but affect everyone from preschoolers to retirees. The "Wiener Zeitung" discussed the political dimension of gaming with the historian and political scientist Eugen Pfister.

"Wiener Zeitung": Can video games also be political?

Eugen Pfister is a historian and political scientist with a focus on video games. He is currently head of the "Horror Game Politics" research project at the Bern University of the Arts. At the Austrian Academy of Sciences he studied political communication in digital games.

Eugen Pfister: Yes, of course. Games do not arise in a politically free space and therefore always communicate world views and common values. They just, in a sense, reproduce the world as we perceive it. In doing so, they confirm dominant worldviews and we also internalize this when we play. One speaks of media socialization.

How can that look in concrete terms?

A very common narrative is the story of the collapse of the state, especially in zombie games, but not only there. In the face of a mostly external threat, the overburdened system collapses and only a lonely - mostly male - hero can then ensure order. He doesn't need to consult with anyone else. He is the only one who knows what to do and saves the world.

Think about it quickly, sounds a little like Donald Trump, doesn't it?

Exactly! In the USA in particular, there is a strong overlap between popular culture and political discourse. Meanwhile, however, this also applies to many right-wing European political currents. Video games are not the only ones involved in the success of this story, which is as simple as it is unrealistic. Films and other media also help to consolidate a certain worldview. They also take it up because it is already successful. So it would be nonsense to blame video games for this, but they have played an increasingly important role in recent years.

In other words, computer games have become something of an ideological trailblazer. The bottom line is that they dictate the way we think?

No not at all. After all, computer games do not reinvent these ideas, but instead take up existing ideas, which are then processed through the media. But through computer games people are mentally prepared for certain scenarios. This doesn't just apply to politics. For players of business simulations it is perfectly natural that something has to be done more efficiently somewhere all the time.

Can computer games be used as a propaganda tool?

Not really. A colleague of mine, Sian Beavers, has shown that players are particularly careful here. For example, they distrust video games especially when it comes to historical content, even more than other media.

But couldn't one subtly convey values ​​through computer games with expected sales of millions?

The so-called triple A titles work in reverse. It's about hundreds of millions of euros. They test what people like, what goes down well and what doesn't, using every trick in the book. All edges are sanded away before publication. In the end, they therefore usually depict the prevailing worldview.

What do computer games say about the current political situation?

It is noticeable that a disproportionately high proportion of computer games are about conflicts. Cooperative games, in which something is created together, are unfortunately still the exception. It also strikes me that "European values" in particular are rarely represented in a world of war, competition and increased efficiency. The lonely hero mentioned, for example, contradicts the European post-war understanding. But that has to do with the fact that the big game developers around the world always have the American market in mind.