Micro Essay #1 – Ideologies in Video Games

Matthew Slaunwhite


ENGL 255

Carolyn Jong

February 16th, 2017


Every person has their own ideologies; these ideologies can be common and shared by many, while others can be very different and unique. Whatever a person’s ideologies, they are a large part of what makes people who they are. Ideologies tend to become deeply engrained in people and are not easily swayed. They become so deeply engrained that, oftentimes, people choose to listen to their ideologies over facts. A great example of this is deniers of climate change who, despite the staggering amount of evidence, deny that climate change is real and prefer to trust in their ideologies over facts [1]. Given how stubborn people can be in regard to their ideologies, it is difficult to imagine that playing video games has the power to alter and influence them, but this is exactly what Matt Garite proposes in his paper “The Ideology of Interactivity”. In a particularly curious passage, Garite argues that “Like educational institutions, video games are instances of symbolic violence in the sense that they inflict themselves on players. The world of the video game is nothing more than the on-screen rendering of programmed instructions and decrees. Players are “schooled” by an aggressive bombardment of pixelated images and sounds. Every moment is a direct imperative, an attack that demands a response. As the game unfolds, the player’s body is silently inscribed with and encoded by the command lines of the program” [2]. Although video games certainly do contain ideologies, whether they are positive or negative, it is unlikely the medium has the power to “school” us and change the very foundation of who we are as people.  A more apt interpretation of ideologies in video games is presented by Lee Bradley, who writes “mainstream videogames, even those seemingly void of political statement, are implicitly political. While for the most part they are not designed to tackle political issues head-on, or carry overt political messages, they do reflect the values and the popular ideology of the culture in which they were created” [3].

Acknowledging that video games do convey ideologies, regardless if intended or not, is a more realistic approach to this topic than claiming that they “inscribe the player” with the ideologies encoded in them[2]. Two excellent and differing examples of ideologies in video games are Rim World and Gods Will Be Watching. In Rim World, rather than allowing the player to make relationship choices for their pawns, they are forced to accept gender ideologies that are coded into the behavior of their pawns. Men and women behave quite differently toward each other in terms of relationships and what they deem desirable. The gender ideology held by the developer may be quite obvious to some, but it could just as easily go unnoticed depending on the player. It does not seem as though Rim World was designed to “carry an overt political message”, but nevertheless it does “reflect the popular ideology of our culture” [3]. Rim World makes many assumptions about each gender and their desires, for instance, female pawns are eight times less likely to start a relationship than their male counterparts [4]. Although this may not be a fact, it certainly is reflective of our society, as many who follow gender stereotypes feel that it is a man’s role to instigate a conversation with a woman. Although Rim World is presenting a clear gender ideology to its players, it is doubtful that it is trying, or has the power, to subconsciously manipulate a player’s ideologies. Conversely, some players were quite furious over the representation of gender and relationships in the game, and went so far as to contact the developer [4].

While Rim World may impose certain ideologies on players, Gods Will Be Watching handles ideology in a very different and brilliant way. Rather than imposing their ideologies on the player, the developers of Gods Will Be Watching hold a mirror to the player and reflect their own ideologies back at them. The game tells the player very little, only that they must keep their crew alive. The rest is up to the player, as they are given the opportunity to encode their ideologies into the game. They get to use their own beliefs and moral compass to decide what the best course of action for survival is. The player makes choices and the game responds with consequences for those choices, thus allowing the player to experience the impact of their decisions.

Regardless of how video games choose to handle ideologies, there is no escaping that they reflect the ideologies present in the world: but how can they not? After all, they are created by humans who subscribe to certain ideologies. Whatever ideologies games may or may not contain, it is difficult to forget that they are just another medium of entertainment designed to be fun and to tell a story. Do some people allow a video game’s inherit ideologies to affect them? Possibly, but it is more likely that one’s ideologies are not silently perverted by video games. After all, if scientific evidence is not enough to alter someone’s beliefs, it is doubtful that a form of entertainment can.



[1] Hodson, Gordon. “Facts? No Thanks, I’ve Got Ideology.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/without-prejudice/201310/facts-no-thanks-i-ve-got-ideology.

[2] Garite, Matt. “The Ideology of Interactivity (or Video Games and Taylorization of Leisure).” Level Up Conference Proceedings, Utrecht: University of Utrecht, November, 2003.

[3] Bradley, Lee. “Yes, Video Games Are Political.” Collect. 5 Oct. 2009. Web. 13 Feb. 2017. https://lbcollect.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/videogame-politics-the-rise-of-the-we/

[4] Lo, Claudia. “How RimWorld’s Code Defines Strict Gender Roles.” Rock, Paper, Shotgun. 2 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/11/02/rimworld-code-analysis/

Micro Essay #1 – Ideologies in Video Games

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