Why Gamers Can’t Be Politicians

 

gears-of-war-3-groupAs I’m forced to point out from time to time, nobody complains about hours wasted on recreation like watching sports (and reading about sports, and talking about sports, and dreaming …) or watching TV. Many responsible adults devote entire weekends to such activities but are not thought childish or lazy for it.

Affluence has enabled people to regain the abundant time for leisure that primitive hunters enjoyed before the rise of agrarian and industrial societies. In our society, video games are a normal activity of Generation X — respectable in moderation — but have yet to gain the respectability of being practiced by elders.

Yes, there remains a stigma, in some settings, against happily admitting one plays video games (or “interactive media,” as many developers prefer, to indicate the inclusion of serious themes). But that’s not why no avid gamer will be elected to high public office anytime soon.

The real reason is quotes like these, so easily misunderstood if pulled from an old Facebook or Twitter post by some unscrupulous campaign reporter and shared without context:

“I really need to stop driving over pedestrians.” (Watch DogsGTASaints Row)

“I’ve got a date tonight with a Big Daddy!” (Bioshock)

“I took his head off with my chainsaw!” (Gears of War, Dead Rising, Dying Light)

“I must have killed twenty sunflowers last night.” (Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare)

“Diablo is awesome!” (Diablo 3)

To our non-gamer friends: These aren’t quotes from games, but rather the sort of things gamers might say while playing those games. A Big Daddy, for example, is a particularly ominous enemy in the popular dystopian thriller Bioshock.

And yes, this post is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. C’mon, fellow gamers! Add your own. What might you say in reference to a video game that could be damning if separated from its context? Be brave!

– –

P.S. The reason so many video games involve shooting and hitting things is because that’s much, much easier to simulate in fun and surprising ways than challenges that rely on language such s diplomacy and persuasion. Action gameplay is also less labor-intensive than conversation for developers to multiply into hours upon hours of content. Exploration-oriented gameplay is becoming more common now that emerging technologies have enabled easier, faster, and more compelling production of settings and experiences. And companies like Bioware have made considerable progress in streamlining production of conversation-based gameplay.

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  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Good thing I don’t do multiplayer. The chat transcripts from my Civilization V sessions would be brutal.

    “G-D you, India!”

    “Aw man, I didn’t want to convert to Islam!”

    “Ha! I razed Vatican City to the ground!”

    And so forth…

    • #1
  2. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Misthiocracy:Good thing I don’t do multiplayer. The chat transcripts from my Civilization V sessions would be brutal.

    “G-D you, India!”

    “Aw man, I didn’t want to convert to Islam!”

    “Ha! I razed Vatican City to the ground!”

    And so forth…

    Had some of those happen to me in Europa Universalis. Maybe some of the Total War series, especially when the AI breaks an alliance with no good reason.

    I’m trying to think of lines from Fallout, but the best (worst) I can think of right now is “How do I make someone’s pants explode?” Because that sounds bad even here I will explain if necessary: if you pickpocket someone, you can give them a grenade, causing their pants to explode. In Fallout 4 you need a particular set of skills to do this, hence the question.

    • #2
  3. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Some friends asked me to come over when Red Dead Redemption first came out, and I told them I was busy conquering Mexico with a shotgun.

    • #3
  4. Could Be Anyone Member
    Could Be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    If there is a stigma, I have not really felt it to be honest. If anything, game series like AoE, TW, Paradox, etc have the taught me many valuable lessons and only increased my interest in politics, philosophy, economics and the like. Best beware, some day soon there might be a politician that played many an hour of video games.

    • #4
  5. Cat III Member
    Cat III
    @CatIII

    “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.” (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

    Saying that will make anyone question your sanity. If you explain it’s lifted from a French novel that won’t help your case.

    • #5
  6. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Matt Balzer: Had some of those happen to me in Europa Universalis. Maybe some of the Total War series, especially when the AI breaks an alliance with no good reason.

    Wow. I’d never thought I’d really enjoy spending a lot of times playing video games, but depending on its historical accuracy, I bet I could get really, I mean really into this one. And it also sounds like a tremendously effective tool for teaching history — again, depending on its accuracy. Tell me more about this: I looked it up, but all the reviews seem to come from people who are focused on the game experience, rather than from historians. But playing something like this should be a dream come true for historians — and it seems to me that if it’s even reasonably close to accurate, a terrific educational tool. Is it good enough that it could be used in lieu of a standard high school history textbook? If not, why not?

    • #6
  7. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    In my case, it’s somewhat different. I’ve been meaning to discuss in what way the city of Neverwinter really had that plague coming.

    This is not many steps from somebody asking, why rebuild New Orleans?

    I think with Neverwinter nights you can get away with it if you notice that the plague is taken from Thucydides account of the plague of Athens–just like Lucretius did…–& that the revolt in the Peninsula prison is supposed to recall to mind the fall of the Bastille & the chaos of the French Revolution, as well as the contrast between haves (in the Blacklake district) & have nots. By the way, they translate all these things in French, so the city is called Pasdhiver.

    *

    Or there’s Might & Magic VII: For Blood & Honor, which if you talk about would get you called fascist even if everyone forgot about Europe & its blood & iron conservatism, or the somewhat less horrible blood & soil conservatism. (The game seems to be an alternative to Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in king Arthur’s court–the medieval world regains its nobility in this case.)

    *

    I think, there is a correlative among gamers: You can point out things to gamers that will get them to eye you the wrong way. But gamers also seem remarkably curious about possible outcomes within the rules… So Might & Magic VIII can be played successfully almost without killing anyone or anything & has a puzzle for a denouement. Hippiest game ever…

    • #7
  8. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Aaron Miller: As I’m forced to point out from time to time, nobody complains about hours wasted on recreation like watching sports (and reading about sports, and talking about sports, and dreaming…) or watching TV. Many responsible adults devote entire weekends to such activities but are not thought childish or lazy for it.

    I take it you don’t hang out with lots of wives or girlfriends…

    I know a number of ladies jealous of the fact that Papa Toad cares so little about sports that he or a family member isn’t playing that we don’t bother to have cable tv.

    • #8
  9. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Matt Balzer:

    Wow. I’d never thought I’d really enjoy spending a lot of times playing video games, but depending on its historical accuracy, I bet I could get really, I mean really into this one. And it also sounds like a tremendously effective tool for teaching history — again, depending on its accuracy. Tell me more about this: I looked it up, but all the reviews seem to come from people who are focused on the game experience, rather than from historians.  Is it good enough that it could be used in lieu of a standard high school history textbook? If not, why not?

    I don’t know that I would use either of them in lieu of standard texts, but they might make effective additional tools, because a lot of the game is you changing history to see if you can do better.

    The first series, Total War, is what it says, although depending on the era it isn’t always necessary. The games in that series cover Rome (twice), the Medieval period (defined as 1089-1453, I think) Japan during the Shogunate (haven’t played that one) and the Napoleonic era. The series does feature recreations of historical battles giving you the chance to see how they played out or take control of them yourself. (continued)

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    “And companies like Bioware have made considerable progress in streamlining production of conversation-based gameplay.”

    Tell me more — can you show me a sample that I can try for free? Are they any closer to getting a plausible conversation out of a computer than the guys at Reading? (They totally failed, no matter what they claimed — but no one in academia has as much motivation to solve it or as much money for research as Big Game. That’s a hundred-billion dollar industry that’s growing 10 percent p/a, so I figure anyone’s going to build one that can pass it, it’ll be them. And that would be amazing.)

    • #10
  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Matt Balzer: the Napoleonic era.

    I’d love to play that, I think. Is there any way to try a sample without shelling out for the whole game? Is there any initial advantage to people who know the history of the Napoleonic wars? Would someone who knows nothing about them have a decent understanding of the era, the major players, and the chronology of the events after playing it for a while?

    • #11
  12. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Aaron Miller: P.S. The reason so many video games involve shooting and hitting things is because that’s much, much easier to simulate in fun and surprising ways than challenges that rely on language such s diplomacy and persuasion. Action gameplay is also less labor-intensive than conversation for developers to multiply into hours upon hours of content. Exploration-oriented gameplay is becoming more common now that emerging technologies have enabled easier, faster, and more compelling production of settings and experiences. And companies like Bioware have made considerable progress in streamlining production of conversation-based gameplay.

    This is true. I don’t dislike shooting/hitting per se, but it does bug me when the targets are human, even if they’re bad guys. An hour or 45 minutes of shooting guys is not ok with me. I don’t mind my kids shooting, but not humans.

    I’m sure they play 1st person shooter much much more than I’d like because their friends like to play.

    btw, their group is now videoing their (mostly Minecraft) games and posting on youtube with their hilarious (in their minds) commentary. Is this a thing?

    • #12
  13. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Europa Universalis, on the other hand, focuses more on grand strategy. It begins in the late 1300s and runs until 1821, although you can start at selected points of interest during the timeline (Siege of Constantinople, discovery of the New World, Thirty Years’ War, American Independence, and so on). It is considerably more detailed; you can, for example, play as any one of the member states of the Holy Roman Empire, work your way up to Elector status, and try to get enough Electors backing you to become Emperor. Similarly, you can begin as Milan or Brandenburg and work your way to Italian or German unification (or Russian, or Spanish, or Dutch, or the United Kingdom).

    Eventually, the game and actual history will diverge enough that it’s not helpful, but as a starting point I think it could do well. It might also get students asking questions about the nation they’re playing and its actual history.

    • #13
  14. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:

    Aaron Miller: P.S. The reason so many video games involve shooting and hitting things is because that’s much, much easier to simulate in fun and surprising ways than challenges that rely on language such s diplomacy and persuasion. Action gameplay is also less labor-intensive than conversation for developers to multiply into hours upon hours of content. Exploration-oriented gameplay is becoming more common now that emerging technologies have enabled easier, faster, and more compelling production of settings and experiences. And companies like Bioware have made considerable progress in streamlining production of conversation-based gameplay.

    This is true. I don’t dislike shooting/hitting per se, but it does bug me when the targets are human, even if they’re bad guys. An hour or 45 minutes of shooting guys is not ok with me. I don’t mind my kids shooting, but not humans.

    I’m sure they play 1st person shooter much much more than I’d like because their friends like to play.

    Their group is now videoing their games and posting on youtube with their hilarious (in their minds) commentary. Is this a thing?

    I’m given to understand that it is, although from the limited amounts I’ve seen, the hilarity level is pretty low.

    • #14
  15. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Matt Balzer: the Napoleonic era.

    I’d love to play that, I think. Is there any way to try a sample without shelling out for the whole game? Is there any initial advantage to people who know the history of the Napoleonic wars? Would someone who knows nothing about them have a decent understanding of the era, the major players, and the chronology of the events after playing it for a while?

    There is a demo available, but you have to have Steam (also free) to download it. It might be PC only, I’m not sure if that’s the only demo or if it just says that for me since I’m using a PC.

    In general, I find that these games don’t require knowledge of the history, but having the knowledge makes it more helpful. I can’t say whether or not the same convention holds in Napoleon, but in Medieval the selection for generals and/or rulers is random but you might get an actual person once in a while.

    In Europa Universalis it generally starts out with the historical leader, then changes after the ruler (and possibly the heir) die or are voted out of office.

    • #15
  16. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Matt Balzer: I’m given to understand that it is, although from the limited amounts I’ve seen, the hilarity level is pretty low.

    And yet they watch them, and talk about them, and make more…

    They could be into worse things!

    • #16
  17. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    Many responsible adults devote entire weekends to such activities but are not thought childish or lazy for it.

    Wrong.  Because I used to do exactly that.  Can’t think of a bigger waste of time than watching sports all day, on the weekends.

    • #17
  18. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad:

    Matt Balzer: I’m given to understand that it is, although from the limited amounts I’ve seen, the hilarity level is pretty low.

    And yet they watch them, and talk about them, and make more…

    They could be into worse things!

    Very true. I think that’s the right attitude for a parent to take. As a media consumer, I’m not sure what you gain from being the 3500th person to do youtube comment videos, but apparently there’s something there.

    • #18
  19. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I have to go sell my crew to the druuge to get a rosy sphere.

    Eat my football of death jerks.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: This is true. I don’t dislike shooting/hitting per se, but it does bug me when the targets are human, even if they’re bad guys. An hour or 45 minutes of shooting guys is not ok with me. I don’t mind my kids shooting, but not humans.

    I worry about this too. Increasingly real war, in which real people die, looks like this. I don’t know if it’s at all a good idea for people to be in the routine habit of killing people on a video screen and thinking it’s just a game. We have lots of people who are good drone pilots owing to video-game training from childhood. That’s a worrying power to have in the wrong hands. And when you add that thought to this one, it doesn’t get better.

    • #20
  21. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Claire for the love of all that’s holy stay away from Europe Universalis. It’s like crack for the mind.

    I once spent a month figuring out how to survive and conquer as Scotland in EU II. Sure I ended up conquering Europe and the Americas as Catholic Gaelic-speaking kingdom but what I really needed was an A in Geology 103.

    • #21
  22. Matthew Roy Member
    Matthew Roy
    @MatthewRoy

    The chatter in a typical online FPS (first-person shooter) match sounds like you’re playing with a dozen Rob Ford impersonators. (Language Warning: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=g1fd040nGs4&autoplay=1 )

    But then again, if Rob Ford could have a career politics, why can’t us foul-mouthed gamers enter politics too?

    • #22
  23. Grosseteste Thatcher
    Grosseteste
    @Grosseteste

    Even with context, Dwarf Fortress leads to some monstrous possibilities, mainly because they’re possible: http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=25967.0
    TL;DR: player asks for and gets help building an operation to create and harvest merperson corpses because their bones are valuable, developer makes their bones less valuable in response.

    Here’s an example of the kind of thing that can arise in normal play:
    http://bronzemurder.timdenee.com/

    • #23
  24. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody
    @HankRhody

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Matt Balzer: the Napoleonic era.

    I’d love to play that, I think. Is there any way to try a sample without shelling out for the whole game? Is there any initial advantage to people who know the history of the Napoleonic wars? Would someone who knows nothing about them have a decent understanding of the era, the major players, and the chronology of the events after playing it for a while?

    I played through once in story mode as the French, and again on the main war on the main map as the British. Story mode has you fight the Italian Campaign, then the Egyptian Campaign, and then fight through Austria to invade Russia.

    On the Pro side as a teaching tool, playing the game firmly entrenches in your mind the major players in the conflict, some of the minor nations (you won’t remember them all), and several of the characters. For example the British start out with Lord Horatio Nelson as an admiral, and a pretty excellent one as one might expect.

    On the Con side, as is the nature of these games tends to be, they set up the board and let you play it out. Maybe you conquer Austria, maybe you subjugate it and run it as a client state, maybe you form an alliance with it. This tends to wreak havoc with actual events. And often times game mechanics blunt actual history. You can lose troops to the winter, but it was never more than a mild annoyance in game. Shedding them by the tens of thousands just wouldn’t be very fun ,would it?

    • #24
  25. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody
    @HankRhody

    Austin Murrey: Claire for the love of all that’s holy stay away from Europe Universalis. It’s like crack for the mind.

    Sounds like I’m not the only person imagining Claire diving into the game and never coming back out.

    • #25
  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Hank Rhody:

    Austin Murrey: Claire for the love of all that’s holy stay away from Europe Universalis. It’s like crack for the mind.

    Sounds like I’m not the only person imagining Claire diving into the game and never coming back out.

    It sounds like it might be too dangerous for me, I agree. Best not to take that first hit.

    • #26
  27. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tell me more — can you show me a sample that I can try for free? Are they any closer to getting a plausible conversation out of a computer than the guys at Reading? (They totally failed, no matter what they claimed — but no one in academia has as much motivation to solve it or as much money for research as Big Game. That’s a hundred-billion dollar industry that’s growing 10 percent p/a, so I figure anyone’s going to build one that can pass it, it’ll be them. And that would be amazing.)

    I think the best description of a conversation based game is that it is a choose your own adventure book. You select dialog options which branch off into various responses and further options, which sometimes create a permanent change in the game state, ie. you get the option in a dialog to refuse to go save character X and so character X is not gone from the game, and Characters Y and Z have now will have hostile dialog options and will not give you further quests. You could save X and then you would get to experience more of the quests and dialog of Y and Z.

    Still when well done by game developers they can create a rather immersive story, in which you can develop a sense of agency, and which can surprise you.

    Best, example of such a game to date is Witcher 3.

    • #27
  28. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    I’ll hold on to my stigma, thank you.

    When kids (or adults I suppose) are playing together in person they have fun. It’s like any other kind of play. But the alone gaming has a weird, addicting, upsetting, hypnotic quality that’s pretty creepy. Certainly unlike other forms of entertainment.

    • #28
  29. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    I played the first 3 or 4 Myst games and really enjoyed them. Elaborate puzzles to solve, beautiful, ethereal artwork; very satisfying to make it through the whole thing.

    I stink at the ones that require lots of hand-eye. Mostly because I know I could get the hang of it if I spent enough hours practicing, but in the end I’d have a skill I didn’t care about. No judgement of others here, I just lost interest as soon as it required hours and hours of practice.

    My sons (17 and 18) are both artists with a PS4 controller, and I love to watch them tearing up some game.

    • #29
  30. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Recently I started geocaching instead, which I consider a sort of internet game that you play out in the real world, actually outdoors (the “outernet”, as I call it). You locate the caches at the website, then have to actually go (hike, swim, climb) to search for them wherever they are in the world. There are currently over 2,000,000 out there (and I’ve only found ~2600).

    “I am my own search engine” as the t-shirt says.

    • #30

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