On Being A "Woke" Gamer

Old World has plenty of natives that players expand over. It’s not dour, but that’s my point (I think, hell I’m not sure anymore, hehe). It handles expansion and most of it’s problems pretty well. Attila: Total War covers Attila’s massive expansion and colonization of much of Europe and Asia. It’s not really ‘dark’ either (unless you’re playing some country in Northern Italy, ha!). So colonization/expansion games can be, while perhaps not exactly light hearted, certainly not uber-serious or dour either.

Ideas to sabotage a Monopoly game:

  • Act like a bank, giving people money so they can buy stuff (with a interest rate calculated from old games)
  • Sell people “tokens” (cookies or buttons), they can use that cookie to pay half the cost of staying.
  • Sell tickets for lottery where you gives a property to a winner.
  • Agree with another player to “alliance” where he don’t pay on your property, and you don’t pay on his properties.

I think some of these ideas would be succesfull at sobotaging the game, but others not. Clever players may accept the ones that can be abused to gain a advantage of the player offering them and ignore the others.

Because monopoly is a game about bankrupting other people. And players playing monopoly finds that bankrupting people is very fun and a cool thing to do. I don’t think monopoly is going to awak any conscience.

Slavery in most 4x games though is more abstract and more “ancient” than anything that actually happened in North and South America. Humans have enslaved captives from other communities during war and raiding for thousands of years, but those situations were not at all similar to the race-based, organized, proto-capitalist trade in human beings the Portuguese introduced to the rest of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and which the Spanish and English doubled down on to enable their colonies to succeed. Just having an option to to use slaves in a game may or may not be problematic.

A game doesn’t need to try to overly “teach” anything to be political, even overtly political, without needing tu use the term in its broader sense. Some genres of games basically can’t avoid it. City builders being a clear example. You can’t build one without making a political statement, even though the intention might not be teaching anything, just setting up a system of rewards that works as a game.

What I object to is to the assumption that any game including a certain subject needs to be considered offensive. Colonialism, even when playing from the point of view of the colonizer, can be depicted in a way that makes justice to the subject matter and add to the conversation.

Indeed. This requires a consciousness on the part of the designers, though, an awareness of what they are doing and the ramifications of their actions. That sort of reflective practice is not very common in game development, or in many other industries for that matter. It’s one of the things we try to teach our game students at my college, though. Do what you want, but know what you are doing, be able to explain and discuss it, and in the end, own it. We don’t want people to throw up their hands say “it’s just a game!” or some other nonsense.

And if they choose not to discuss it. Shun all media. Then conveniently vanish from the Earth forever…leaving it up to the players, untainted from the influence of authorial intent…

Is that such a bad thing?

Nope. Not if they were consciously creating something while they were working rather than unreflectively just churning out assets and systems. Intent isn’t the issue so much as being aware of impact. I’m not really concerned about “wokeness” as much as I am about “awareness.” I don’t have much patience for folks who churn out stuff that anyone with a brain could see would be problematic in some ways, and then say “I never thought about it, it was just a game idea, who knew?”

In general, I agree with what you have been posting.

However, I think that almost all the creative endeavors that influence our culture are packed with “I never thought about it… who knew?”

First of all, no matter how conscious a creator is about some aspects of a creation, there are going to be a whole lot of background assumptions, reflections of the existing culture. It’s my sense that this barely visible transmission of culture is at least as important as the conscious stuff. Which is why so many things from the past that set out to support liberation movements end up looking badly dated years down the road.

Furthermore, I think that so much of the outcome really is totally unforeseen. Take violence on TV and other media. For decades, the debate centered on whether this stuff makes people more violent, but that outcome is dwarfed by the way violent entertainment persuades the population that there’s a ton more random violent crime out there than actually exists. Which has enormous political consequences. In hindsight this might seem obvious, but I don’t remember a single voice warning of this particular outcome ahead of time.

The other thing which seems relevant to me. For time out of mind, creative minds that influenced culture were basically individuals. And the cliche about starving artists has some merit – because so many of them stayed true to their own perception of the world, very often to the exclusion of marketability. But the past century has seen a steady rise in creation originating in the corporate mind, specifically for profitability. This seems to me to be throwing a wildcard into the mix. Since “the customer is always right”, it is democratizing all forms of culture, more so every decade since the first movies. But it means that if profit and principle are at odds, the former will have a big advantage. But it also makes boycotting almost an inevitable response when people disagree, because corporations are more likely to pay attention to that than some individual creator.

Good points. I think the key is attitude and in this case intent–not “authorial intent” in terms of the creative work, but how people approach the creative process. If you go in to the process with a reflective mindset, knowing you probably won’t foresee every possible consequence of your actions, but understanding that there will be consequences and are ready to deal with them honestly, I think that’s all you can ask. No one is expected to have a crystal ball, for sure. It’s when folks willfully refuse to think about how their work might be seen, or what impact it might have, and then deny any responsibility, that I think things get ugly.

So difficult it might as well be in impossible. Espeically for people that make things. Whether it’s 1891 or 2021, no one can precieve the impact! (unless they have foresight)

People can certainly control how they react to criticism, though. And unfortunately, a lot of creators choose to dig in their heels or decide not to care rather than reflect on what’s being pointed out.

Not at all. It is impossible to predict exactly what people might think, but it is far from impossible to at least be aware that, yes, what you create will cause people to think and react. And some things are very easy to predict, while others of course are very hard. Some decisions you make will clearly lead to certain effects, and some will have effects you cannot really guess at, but you know everything you do will have some effect. Or why are you even doing it?

Creative works are not commodities; their value is purely in how people react to them. The very nature of producing creative works ties the artist to an impact.

Ummm, right. It is impossible to predict. Exactly. Yet, not at all. I am getting mixed messages here.

No, you are just missing my point (which admittedly might be my fault of course). I’m not saying creators should be 100% aware of every specific implication of their work–that is indeed impossible. What they should be 100% aware of is that what they do will have an effect and make an impression. Sure, given the world we live in, there is no way to foretell exactly what people might think, and anything you do might be picked up on by someone for scrutiny. There are some things that are pretty clearly controversial, though, and you definitely need to be prepared to discuss your decision making process. Mind you, I’m not saying don’t make games about X or Y, I’m saying do so intentionally and have a distinct POV you are communicating; there is no such thing as neutrality.

For most stuff, as long as you do a little due diligence, you can at least come across as something more than clueless when someone gets pissed at your work.

I think Tom Clancy games are more true to Tom Clancy politically, than Sid Meier Games.

Do we know if Sid Meier is a strong defendant of colonization and the looting of resources by european countries in the third world?

I am pacifist and I love guns.

I like to murder pixelated enemies and I know rationally that I am not hurting anybody. What I fear of “woke gametionalist” is that can populte that, adding a ethical layer to murdering sprites for fun, where nothing is needed here. At the same time I am conscious that some people may be venting, like a neonazi can be playing a game where you murder minorities because thats what he like to do in real life and he is enacting. I think theres a difference between me murdering a horde of enemies and that nazi guy.

This is not a criticism Old World, but I still consider that a kind of sanitizing, because pre-modern societies didn’t make a “value judgement” in terms of advantages and disadvantages when choosing to engage in slavery. It makes sense as a mechanic, but not as history. It’s a very complex topic, obviously, but slavery existed in some form in pretty much every pre-modern agricultural society on earth because it was far more economically viable than the alternatives (even where “forbidden” it was often replaced by systems only marginally removed from it).

I like the acoup blog’s point on humanizing history and I’d love to see more of that. But I don’t see a big problem with games designing mechanics for gameplay reasons - as long as the creator is aware. The main problem I have with questionable mechanics and the “just a game” argument is when it’s either in massively bad taste (and that will vary from person to person, obviously) or when the designer starts arguing for historical fidelity as justification for their interpretation.

Honestly, I think a lot of issues would be avoided if designers/creators would make sure they have basic broad knowledge and stop trying to play the historical fidelity card when faced with criticism.

You’re correct, but I’d argue that the game is adding the mechanic because a) as you acknowledge it’s good gameplay to make the player choose between tradeoffs and b) the players, that is us, live in the modern world, so we’re adding our own value judgments anyway. If we didn’t, then there’d be no kerfuffle about Scramble for Africa or Puerto Rico or any of this thread.

Oh sure - agree 100%. And I think that last part is true of all historical art (including games) - it tends to say more about the period it was created in, rather than the period it is depicting.