Dictator, a game based on the life of a ruler in the Cold War, released in 1983 by DK’Tronics in Europe, was the first videogame to revolve around politics itself. However, videogames have a long history of including political views. Following DK’Tronics lead, Ubisoft, now known for their FPS games such as Rainbow Six Siege, created their first hit game “Ghost Recon,” inspired by the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. Soon, many game companies based their games on the Cold War and its political ideologies, with hits such as Fallout by Bethesda and Red Alert 2 by EA. Since then, the gaming world has evolved into a universe of political themes.
Ghost of Tsushima
Politics in the 21st century has been more divided than ever, as games reflect that division by including slogans like “Black Lives Matter”. After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in particular, political opinions began appearing more boldly in video games. More recently, the game Ghost of Tsushima, released in July 2020 by Sucker Punch productions, is a game based on Japan’s Mongol Invasion in 1274. The game received heated criticism from Asian Americans who perceived the game as stereotypical and offensive to Asian cultures. Social media responded negatively with Asian American audiences saying on Twitter, “I really ‘love’ it when Asian Americans raise severe concerns on an issue, and white people go behind our backs to Asia…instead of asking us.”
Cyberpunk 2077 is the most recent controversy with its take on a collapsed/reformed United States under the control of a big corporate government, which controls the population’s hopes and dreams of making it to the top of this dystopian world. In an interview with the Polish website Spider’s Web, CD Projekt Red’s Lead Quest Designer for Cyberpunk 2077 Paweł Sasko said “for me, the most important thing is that our game is a closed work and it is not a political statement, a political thesis.” A political thesis, indeed, when our current government is facing a political divide and tensions between the two political parties have never been higher.
Call of Duty Cold War:
Call of Duty Cold War is the new rebooted series in the COD franchise, portraying the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal United States Government along with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. During the Cold War, the US-funded multiple conflicts to prevent the spread of communism and its radical ideas. In the game, you are placed as a MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group) chosen by the CIA as an operative to do missions from assassinating high-profile targets and gathering intelligence to prevent nuclear destruction from the soviets. Many of the US-Sino-Soviet conflicts created many poor and dictatorship countries, such as Venezuela, Angola, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the conflicts are glamorized in the game. In the real world, COD Cold War, to appeal to worldwide demand, censored many parts of the game, such as the footage of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in the COD trailer, an event China’s government does not acknowledge the existence of. Activision immediately removed the Tiananmen Square footage to appeal to the Chinese market, ironically still keeping the words “Know your history or be doomed to forget it.”
America’s right to free political expression is a rare system that many countries restrict due to the dangers having a free political mindset presents to order. Video games overall have modernized over the years and are becoming bolder, both in their political message and gameplay. For now, the video game industry in the free world will be a stepping stone for future political messages.