Top Ten Political Video Games


Games for the political enthusiast inside all of us.

There is a heated argument about whether games can be considered art or not which is still being debated to this day. However one often overlooked piece of evidence which suggests they are is the plethora of games out there which hold socio-political themes, teach politics and political history or act as political satire; just like any good film or book might do. Being both an avid gamer and student of political science, I feel I’m in the sweet spot of being able to identify and list the top 10 political video games of all time.

10. Papers, Please

This game takes place in an all too real scenario of a border checkpoint station and explores the themes of corruption and maladministration in the state bureaucracy. That sentence alone should make clear as to why this is a great political video game.

9. Assassin’s Creed III

assassins-creed-3-logo-01

This installment in the long running franchise taught me more about the fight over the New World between the colonial powers and the War for Independence than any history book ever has and ever will. It proves that education is most effective when it is taught through the medium of entertainment.

 8. Metro Last Light

Admittedly, this game is based on a book and so arguably the political essence originated in the source material. Regardless of this, the game effectively portrays an alternative universe of the dystopian and the supernatural but with the all too relatable conflicts between the ideological regimes of Nazism, Fascism and Communism.

 7. Killzone Shadow Fall

Akin to an inter-galactic “Animal Farm”, the narrative of Killzone Shadow Fall is a fictional allegory for a real political event; but unlike Orwell’s Novel, that aforementioned political event in Killzone is the Cold War. Instead of the Berlin Wall separating the East from the West, an even bigger and more futuristic wall is dividing the humans from the Helghast refugees who’ve had to make earth their new home following the destruction of Helghan. The game goes further than a fictional retelling though, it makes an interesting point about the nature of war; most notably that it’s not black or white. There is no “good” and “bad” side, both powers have their sympathetic qualities (The Helghast are suffering with the loss of their homeland) and their darker agendas (The humans deliberately leave the Helghast refugees in poor living conditions whilst they abide in luxury). It leads to a game which is more than skin deep from a political standpoint, which is impressive considering it’s a triple A first person shooter.

Killzone trailer

Mass Effect 3 PC

 6. Mass Effect 3

Speaking of War, the finale of the Mass Effect trilogy also provides an interesting representation of war and diplomacy. The number of difficult decisions you have to make when trying to form an alliance against the reapers in the game highlights the point that there a variety of vested interests in war that must be satisfied in order to form a unified coalition. Just like each of the allied powers all had separate agendas when attempting to unite against the aggressors in World War 2, races like the Krogans and the Turians are all preoccupied with their own problems that Shepard must deal with before he can get them on board. More infamously, Mass Effect 3 points to the moral element of war; and highlights the ethical dilemmas that leaders like Shepherd must face when making military decisions.

5. Democracy 3

This game absolutely nails it in stressing the difficulties of the day to day life of an elected politician. So many interests to satisfy! So many consequences in one decision! So many appearances to keep up! The only reason this game isn’t any higher on the list is because it’s more of a political simulation than an actual game.

 4. BioShock

Of course BioShock has to be on this list; it is infamous in gaming history as “the philosophical shooter” and those claims aren’t wrong. Influenced by Ayn Rand’s libertarian novel “Atlas Shrugged”, the game focuses on the same concept (the wealthy elites removing themselves from society to live in their own utopia) but with a different perspective; the utopia has gone horribly wrong. The game explores a wealth of political themes such as class conflict, ideological manipulation and the potentially catastrophic side effects of a stateless society. Other than this, of course, the game looks stunning and plays brilliantly.

 3. Grand Theft Auto V

vinewood sign

Grand Theft Auto V is political for two reasons. The first and most obvious being is that it spawned (as all Grand Theft Auto games do) a media frenzy upon its release for being so “politically incorrect”. But the game itself is also a great piece of political satire of post-recession America. The denizens of Los Santos have more money than purpose and are desperately trying to pursue happiness through purely materialistic means. There are even jabs at globalization; where the leaders of multinational corporations like “LifeInvader” (i.e. Facebook) are treated like celebrities and wield huge amounts of influence. The city thus acts as a fantastically over-exaggerated (but all too accurate) micro-cosm of the contemporary American lifestyle.

2. SimCity

In a similar fashion to Democracy, SimCity takes a realistic look at the day to day operations of the city-state. I say city-state because, if you’re a good enough politician, you can allow you’re city to have its own international airport, space station or even arcology system. The games gives you the freedom to choose different ideological agendas; you could become a socialist and tax the wealthy in order to provide more public services or follow the doctrine of the “New Right” and favour business over industry. I know a lot of people are pretty alienated with the game for its launch issues, but regardless of this, it can’t be denied as an entertaining political simulation.

SimCity

1. Civilisation V

First and foremost, the reason this game is at the top of this list is because it’s predominantly just a ridiculously addictive and fantastic game on its own merit. But it is also as politically intriguing as it is entertaining. It boasts a deep understanding of the nature of international relations; so much so that my international development lecturer once used it as a model for explaining a certain theory! Whether you’re using you’re skills of diplomacy, making important decisions about the distribution of resources or choosing your social policies, Civilization V always involves the players in matters of politics.

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About alexavard95

Born and raised on the greatest European island in the world, Great Britain, Alex loves gaming, films, TV and about every other geeky thing you can think of.

There are 6 comments

  1. Nick Verboon

    Cool list, but I would have gone with Bioshock Infinite over the original. I freakin’ LOVED that it used string theory and alternate dimensions to explore that people are just people, regardless of their station in life. The oppressors in the game are bastards who use their affluence to discriminate and keep what they have, but when the worm turns and the people have the power in an alternate dimension they immediately turn it around to oppress the former oppressors even more savagely, proving themselves no better. Self-interest and abuse of power is just human nature, regardless of which group has another under their heel. Very well done.

    1. Savannah Winter

      I actually hated that about Bioshock Infinite very thoroughly. It’s a very common and obnoxious trope to portray the oppressed as being as bad as their oppressors and it reeks of white liberal pseudo-progressiveness. It’s not deep or profound, it’s just the same old tired crap used to perpetuate discrimination. “Well, if it was opposite, things would be the same way, so we’re not in the wrong” which assumes that the oppressed will be as morally repugnant as their oppressors. An unfounded assumption that needs to die in a fire.

      1. Nick Verboon

        The message is actually one of humanistic equality, although one that sails over the vast majority of people’s heads as they don’t like positive messages delivered through negative means. People are people for all of their individual strengths and weaknesses. This is as mathematically infallible as 1 = 1. The only true difference between an oppressed group and their oppressors is who is in the driver’s seat. The oppressed never are and that by itself says everything that needs to be said. Basic self-interest dictates that an oppressed group that comes into power becomes the very thing they rebelled against almost overnight. Take every revolution ever in the history of mankind as an example. China, USSR, Middle East, Vietnam, Cuba, India; pick a country, any country. If these things weren’t a truth, there would be a utopia somewhere on this godforsaken rock. But the truth of the matter is that when any group assumes power, the first thing they do is abuse it. Power corrupts and there is no magical demographic that is immune to it.

        This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight discrimination (as you do in the game). But you are able to do it more effectively if you understand the nature of discrimination first, which means acknowledging every group is guilty of it at some level. If you don’t acknowledge that, you are discriminating yourself and breeding more of the very thing you’re trying to oppose. It doesn’t work very well. The only way to fight back against the hivemind group mentality of discrimination is by appealing to the individual. Right the wrongs you see in front of you as best you can and don’t contribute any more to the problem. If everybody did that, we’d get our perfect world. I’m not holding my breath, though.

      2. Savannah Winter

        Except that’s not equality. It sounds cute, painting the oppressed as being as bad as their oppressors, so equality, but it doesn’t play out that way. During Reconstruction when there were small black run towns, there was never abuse of power to harm white people. It just didn’t happen.

        The reason white people, white men, et cetera, love these narratives is because it strips them of any responsibility for past and present systems of oppression. If you tell yourself that “If we didn’t get them, they’d have gotten us,” you’re not making a statement of equality. You’re justifying and/or apologizing for systems of oppression.

        The situation in the game never would have happened. Ever. So it ends up being a fun “thought experiment” for white people. We as a people are still thoroughly huge racists and yet we attempt to make post-racism media. Doesn’t work out because 1, we’re not post racist, and 2, because we have a fundamental misunderstanding about how racism works. We like to think of racism as individual acts as opposed to the systems constructed over a period of time.

        White supremacy served a practical use in the United States, that being reinforcing and justifying a trillion dollar system of slavery. It’s still used to that end with the prison industrial complex. It’s thoroughly disingenuous to try and paint a narrative where we can assume anything about what would happen if the oppressed came to power beyond what little we’ve seen that still didn’t occur outside of a vacuum. To what benefit would the oppressed, having cast off their shackles, gain by becoming the exact same as their oppressors? It’s sheer fantasy, and it’s been repeated for centuries in the US as a reason why black people shouldn’t be given rights. “THEY’LL GET REVENGE ON US.” Shit, we heard that non-stop during the election of President Barack Obama.

        There’s also that the game lets you participate in the public humiliation of an interracial couple, so I don’t see why people are so gung-ho about defending this obviously “post-racist” shlock.

      3. Nick Verboon

        Your definition of cute varies from mine. You are skewing the issue beyond all recognition here to avoid staying on topic. You can’t call a narrative whose focus is racism post-racist. Did you not miss all of the Klan robes and racist caricatures in the game? That’s supposed to represent a post-racist society?

        You are arguing against millenia of human history here.Seriously, pick a country. This cast off the shackles thing has been done over and over and over again and it repeats itself over and over again. I’m not going to post and entire world history book for you here, but if you are serious about talking politics, I’d recommend giving one a look sometime instead of working entirely with hypotheticals. If plain facts are too boring, at least give allegory a try. Pick up some Orwell or something. You’re practically arguing against the existence of gravity here. It’s like telling a mathematician that Pi actually equals 2 and then ranting about how math is for white people while they attempt to explain ratios and infinite digits to you. Most people are not post-racist, but all facts are.

        To enact change, one needs to be aware of the realities that come with that change. And the reality is that revolution has come over and over again all over the world at different times with different races, but the result is always the same. Sociological phenomena shows that the differences you base your worldview on are almost all cosmetic and subjective. Our similarities as human beings are objective and universal. Leaders on all continents of all colors perpetuate oppression. I’m not lying. Look into it.

        And for the record, I’m not against revolution. I’m all about the devil that you don’t know as opposed to the one you know for a fact is a bastard. But I’m at least aware of how reality works and has worked for the entirety of recorded history. That aspect of Bioshock Infinite isn’t meant to be deep. It’s common sense that people choose to ignore and it was badass of them to essentially reenact history (pick a country, any country, seriously) and portray an unpleasant truth regarding the meaning of equality to a generation that thinks revolution is posting stuff on Twitter and Facebook.

        But hey, if you’ve got space for me in that myopic utopia of yours where you can tell good people from bad people based entirely on the color of their skin instead of by their actions, I’ll join you. We can strike whitey (never did like that guy….what a dick) from atop flying unicorns by blowing him kisses that make him realize what a jerk he is so he’ll give away all of his money and hand over the government to whoever you want. That is how revolution works where you come from, right? In my world it’s usually a lot of horrific violence followed by “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, but yours sounds better.

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