Should AAA Publishers Be Avoiding Political Games? (Opinion)

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Some games can get really political. This Is the Police is no exception, going-in hard after the ease of corruption in law enforcement and governing bodies. In the game, you play the part of a police chief ready to retire, but you have to raise a certain amount before you announce it. You have a small team that seems to be just enough for the small city, until the game throws a few wrenches in your plans.This Is the Police title card overlaid with logos from other game publishers like Activision Blizzard and Sony

First of all, there just is not enough crime for you to make your money. Deals under the table (like drugs and gambling) start to become the norm.

Second, the Mayor is running for office and he has all kinds of demands for you — everything from quelling protests to painting his walls. As a result, you have less and less people to stop the actual crimes from happening. City Hall is hardly impressed with the rise in crime and takes officers away from you, perpetuating the cycle.

Needless to say, it is rather clear that This Is the Police is about as political as a game can get without waving an American flag with the slogan “Police Corruption” under it. This Is the Police becomes less and less of a “fantasy” while the Black Lives Matter movement grows stronger and begins to expose not just police violence, but corruption within the system itself.

Luckily, This Is the Police has the advantage of being an indie game. Their publishers, THQ Nordic, are more than happy to risk a game centered around paperwork when larger publishers might not be. For example, the ever-enthusiastic director of A Way Out Josef Fares is about as far as EA is willing to go on the controversy wagon.A screenshot of a cutscene from This Is the Police

But, what if This Is the Police were not an indie game? Should such a strongly political game scare away publishers? There are two sides to this issue (either yes or no) and both are equally important. However, it should be up to the individual to decide whether or not a game is worth playing, not the publisher.

We do not live in a perfect Steam world where another problem would present itself: over-saturation. Sometimes, being beat over the head with many different versions of the same political issue can get numbing, which is usually opposite the intention of such games. Eventually, the issue will become a cliché, like “war is bad” or “humans are terrible for the environment.”

In fact, many make the argument that politics should stay out of games. This perspective states clearly that games are purely for entertainment and only a hint of the inclusion of politics is allowed.

For example, some politics can be inserted for the sake of invoking an emotional response in the audience. These politics are usually to do with positive military enforcement and actions due to national pride — both of which appear in first-person-shooters like Call of Duty, Wolfenstein, Battlefield, and any of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games.

Though some of them may be reenacting wars in the past or future, that does not make them any less political. The games I listed tend to leave the impression that everyone in the world is as willing to go to war and fight for their country as easily as Americans are, and that notion is reflected in their games. Almost all of the first person shooter games I listed fall under this political idea, where a strong military force is seen as the hero and all opposing forces are dehumanized.A screenshot of a press conference in This Is the Police

Some games try to remind the player that the opposing forces are people too, but the event is quickly brushed aside least the player stop playing. There is nothing wrong with this; national pride is usually a good thing and promotes a healthy environment for arts and culture to flourish. But, it is a political concept, nonetheless.

However, not all games will have politics that a given audience can agree with. Some people find certain political topics unsavory, like the aforementioned national pride of one particular country or the corruption of police and government authorities in This Is the Police. For some audience members, such unsavory feelings might make them stop playing the game, thereby the game loses a particular audience.

See Also: This is the Police 2 Announced

Not agreeing with or feeling angry with a game’s strong politics is hardly something to look down on. It is perfectly acceptable for some players to believe that some games hit reality too hard; the game’s politics are not wrapped in a thick enough fantasy to let the audience disassociate. This can be triggering, depending on the person.

Perhaps This Is the Police hits too close to someone’s personal experiences and reenacting the memories through the game can be uncomfortable at best. For those people, it would be perfectly alright for publishers to shy away from games like it. Though I must point out that such a situation should be prevented by the jacket summary and the game’s trailer, rather than a publisher’s decision to let the game exist or not.

For others, the shocking content of games like This Is the Police might be an important teaching moment. In this line of thought, the argument goes that art is supposed to make you uncomfortable. Through this feeling, a game like This Is the Police is supposed to make you analyze why you feel uncomfortable.A screenshot of internal affairs from This Is the Police

For example, one of the first scenes is the mayor striding into the Chief of Police’s office with “the white smile of a hungry shark.” The mayor clearly does not care much for the main character — everyone is disposable to him. The mayor refers especially to the Chief, as the mayor is pushing the man into retirement. The mayor purposely aggravates the situation by making a lazy demand that the Chief keep the city quiet of crime for 180 days.

The player will realize quickly that this is impossible. Nonetheless, it is uncomfortable to see a city mayor so obviously corrupt and uncaring for the people under his jurisdiction. Most people like to think that their mayor is looking out for them in some way, making sure that the streets are safe in a more legal and constructive way rather than bribery and threats.

Being uncomfortable with this situation is supposed to make the audience question the real-life version. How do you really know that your city mayor is not doing the exact same thing as the one in the game? What makes you so sure? Even asking the question will make many reading it squirm a bit. Again, you are supposed to analyze why you feel uncomfortable about the situation presented to you.

Furthermore, strongly political games can be more interesting and impactful than subtler games. For example, long-time Zelda fans might eventually find the hero’s journey to enlightenment a little tiring. At this point, games like This Is the Police will be violently shocking, but refreshingly so; finally, a game that is not about Buddha and enlightenment. There is no subtlety to This Is the Police, the game comes right out and states its political view, however drastic and intense it might be for some.

As such, strongly political games can bring in audiences too. Be they the audience that enjoys being shocked and made to question their reactions or those that seek out more shocking games that deviate from a formula they are used to.A gameplay screenshot from This Is the Police

Needless to say, regardless of what side of the argument you are on, it should be up to the individual to decide if a game is good or not. If the publishers decided what their audiences or market wanted to play, that is censorship. The publishers are censoring what you can play and most people are not keen on being withheld any kind of media.

This is not the publishers’ intention, of course; they are looking where the money is and they want to publish what will sell. Nevermind the cost of making a AAA game in the first place. If a large enough percentage of their audience states that strongly political games will not sell, they will not publish those games.

As such, large publishers often deciding against strongly political games is not going to change anytime soon. We live in a capitalistic world and until there is little to no financial risk in publishing one game or another, this will continue. Therefore, if you want more games like This Is the Police, then your best bet is where the financial risk is low in comparison: Steam and other stores filled with indie games.

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