I have a slight natural aversion in discussing my personal political ideologies in an open forum, for the sole reason in a highly polarised, tribal environment that has divided both the UK and US political mainstream agenda there does seem to have been a shift in morality and decency from what was once deemed ‘acceptable’ as formed through discourse and consensus, arguably western civilizations greatest strength whose basis and foundation arose from Greek reason and philosophy. Instead, morality and opinion is formed and elevated, promoted around the individual’s identity and general consensus breaks down, the so called identity politic both derided and championed in equal measure across the political divide depending on your viewpoint and disposition. In the 2018 self help book 12 Rules for Life the novelist discusses, based in part around the Taoist metaphysical use of the Yin Yang symbol, how civility and growth can only occur when a more balanced and centrist approach is pursued and championed abandoning the tribal politic so evident and pervasive in discourse and society.
It was almost with a sense of providence having visited the exhibition that Ubisoft so unambiguously denounced politicism in gaming recently, instead as reported originally at Games Industry choosing a more centrist and encompassing direction for their gaming content. Certainly, arguably given the reaction as seen to the release of the Battlefield 5 trailer that pushed to ostracize, rightly or wrongly those who opposed the somewhat forced acceptance of a certain political narrative the resulting message and approach to this games release would seem to suggest perhaps a more refined and less politicised agenda is being pursued. Of interest for those with a political disposition and perhaps awareness of the constraints and challenges in the wider gaming industry but specifically within Ubisoft where the companies internal training and recruitment regime have been leaked recently and reported on at The Quartering Youtube channel here and here which would seem to challenge or at the very least create conflict between an attempt at walking the proverbial divine path of growth through tolerance and acceptance of the structured ordered societal agenda and the private, chaotic responsibility of the individual and fully embracing a liberal agenda. The argument of the merits of representation against the quality of the individual in question in terms of output regardless of intersectional measures.
In discussing the content exhibited it needs to be clear the political ideology, from my own personal subjective opinion was very much of a left leaning liberal agenda that didn’t I feel embrace or attempt to self regulate the message and content being discussed, sadly a missed opportunity at appealing to a broader audience. The concept of the Overton window, whose rise in politics was discussed in February this year at Politico, of acceptable discourse in the public environment unfortunately seems confined and arguably against the spirit of a challenging and open artistic exhibition one would associate with an event of this nature. The nature of sexual representation in gaming, the role and purpose of female characters within existing software for example is told and narrated almost entirely by Anita Sarkeesian with a certain bias placed on the validity of this perspective. Objectively, many of the points raised as discussed from her book and website do have merit around the portrayal of female characters predominantly in open world gaming settings. The exhibit highlighted a number of well known titles as lifted from her campaign such as Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto for example to highlight the base sexualisation of female supporting characters to attract the supposed, ‘white straight male’ demographic. That it took the Gamergate scandal and the reported, prolific attacks both upon her and subsequently through reported messages on the wider female gaming community, to elevate her to this level of exposure, personally I was hoping to see for example a challenge or contrarian perspective, not necessarily to that message but perhaps for the elevation of other demographics, such as that from the Conservative commentator Candace Owens who discussed with Joe Rogan on his weekly show around an alternate perspective on this very event.
Central to the portion of this exhibit were a series of messages recorded and delivered from a broad perspective of the gaming community ranging from developers to political commentators and users. This added context and exposure to the various political and societal messages on display and commented upon. Positioned and fundamental to the ‘disruptor’ element of the exhibit these series of videos, displays and information were framed around individuals and groups who are looking to, disrupt and challenge the pre-existing framework and methodology of the industry at large. Certainly, as subjects that perhaps didn’t rush towards accepting intersectionality to the same degree as the latter exhibits, presenting an alternate perspective to issues such as gun violence and western depictions of culture and language in the industry were effective in delivering their message. For demonstration, a basic video game was on display that allowed you for example to experience the sound of real gun shots from an exterior of a building contrasting to the expected and accepted portrayal of the discharge of rounds as heard and seen in the media. In short, it is human nature to feel confronted and uncomfortable when your accepted norms are challenged and tested however in this regard I do feel the exhibit presented an interesting contrarian message to the established normalises of Western media.
Beyond the Politic, where the exhibit concluded its message of disruption and evolution was a series of titles, displays and gaming units to showcase an attempt to challenge the pre existing companies and methodologies of gaming as we understand. Utilising available software and technology of the environment around them, I found a fascinating array of games that did disrupt and forced me to consider what I would expect a game to be, how I expected a game to be played. From an extremely linear single button light tube role playing game to a simulator that requires you to simply run whilst controlling the four sections of your leg, and pushing you to understand the fundamental aspects of motion you take for granted these were a diverse assortment of titles. My sole observation would be that perhaps they were more weighted towards two or more individuals with a greater proportion of the exhibits for a larger audience than a single player. That said, the aforementioned dungeon role playing light tube and racing simulator were certainly an interesting diversion and experience. My preconceived notion of a budget role playing games tend to be limited, in my imagination, to those of my experience with coded text on an old Apple 2 computer. Despite the evolution of hardware from the larger companies such as Sony and Microsoft when you seen challenger developers releasing ‘games’ such as these you do see an alternate vision of where this industry could proceed.
The exhibition bills itself as a presentation that will highlight the design, disruption and ability to play video game and software, known for both their wider impact on both society and the general gaming community but also an indication both on the impact and challenge to societal prejudices and normalises and also the evolution of the subject matter into the 21st century. For the most part as discussed when looking at the design concept certainly a large proportion of the titles highlighted and on show were Sony exclusives of this generation, whether arguably this is a fair reflection on the current generation is open to debate but the inclusion for example of Splatoon and No Man’s Sky certainly served to balance this to a degree. The political ideology on display for my own personal subjective tastes was again, slightly unbalanced from one perspective however again provided information to consider. There was substance, and indication that should the exhibit be considered a viable, lucrative and commercial success you might envision a return with a more substantial and challenging contextual base on a future occasion. On this occasion, from an individual who certainly considers the wider community and content of greater interest on occasion than the software itself it certainly serves gamers as an audience well and serves to show as a subject matter it has entered and challenges certain perceptions, preconceptions and attitudes. A maturity, not always prevalent but certainly evident and one that cannot be overlook going forward.