Video Games and Politics


Screen from the dystopian game : Papers, please.


This article is a translation of the following French version : Jeux vidéos et politique.  Feel free to improve it.

Most of cognitive scientists agree that videos games are one of the best tool to improve knowledge. But, can we politized people through video games?

This question seems stupid for individuals who have the following cliché: video games are a hobby for geeks. Maybe, those people should considered these facts before repeat some cultural biases:

  1. The video games experience is a daylife phenomenon because the aircraft pilot, the bus driver, and even some managers are trained with video games. Plus, the sudoku downloaded on each of your electronic devices is a video game. Period.
  2. Video games industry is a $108,9 billion (US) evaluated industrial sector in 2017.
  3. Video games is a very serious academic field since decades!

To write this article, I am referring to : The Civic Potential of Video Games by Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh and Chris Even ; Half-Real. Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional World by Jesper Juul ; Games of Empire. Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greg de Peuter.

What these specialists said about politization by video games?

According to Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greg de Peuter, video games follow the very same tends that every kind of art or entertainment : 1) an industry reproduces the model, the system and the values of capitalism (ludocapitalism), 2) dissidences contest this hegeomony, as the far-right military activists (militainment) or anti-capitalist dissents (digital dissent).

Jesper Juul has this theory: if video games influences the gamers in their own political views – i.e. videos games politize them – they will be not determined by video games. In other words, video games are a « basic » propaganda medium like any media. This the reason why academic research makes a distinction between tacite political influence of videos games and the political statement by playing to certain video games.

About the tacite political influence, that is sure a social and political hegemony with a dominent position will shape somebody mind easily because the game is a reproduction and an experiment of the social mainsteam representations and practices. By example, a game like Sims – where relationships are related to money gained by daily work – consolidates hegemonic position of a capitalism.

Concerning the political statement by playing to certain video games, it is probably more obvious for specific video games that claim a political content. Indeed, a gamer has more chance to play to Orwell – a game that denounces state computer monitoring – if he/her shares same concerns. Nonetheless, a Sims’ gamer could have the same feeling about his/her gaming? According to Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh et Chris Even, the political statement does not depend of the game kind because more the political involvment of the gamer is strong, more his/her gaming experience will be politized. In spite of the political claiming of Orwell, a gamer cannot notice it.

Jesper Juul emphasises on a very crucial aspect: video games create a socialization area that is not always a continuum with the real life. If video games have a strenght political potential because the involvement of the gamer is higher than a spector of a movie or people just listen music, it is the exact same thing for a reader. Thus, video games do not extend the real/fictional porosity. That is a biais to believe that, the exact same biais of a futur with fluo colors, with people wear silver suits and listen techno music.

However, video games have two effects that reading does not involved. First, video games force the gamer to assimilate very fastly rules and practices.  That phenomenon creates borders between the game insiders and game outsiders, and increase social hierarchies. Second, this strong inhibition constrains the gamer to a distanciation with the content because he/she struggles against the scenario of which the main ending is the gamer over. And this kind of distancing entails an egocentric refocusing of the gamer.

These side effects have harmful effects because a gamer will be more cynical with the political message of a game that is too difficult to have fun or too easy to play. This appreciation depends of a variable « gaming capital » (like a « cultural capital »). But that is my theory according to my own gaming experience and my approach of sociology knowledge.


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