Playing Politics: Videogames for Politics, Activism, and Advocacy

Ian Bogost

Abstract


Videogames have dominated popular culture for some time, but only in 2004 did they make a significant break into the world of politics, advocacy, and activism. This paper provides an overview of a variety of types of games used for political speech, from endorsed party messages to activist dissent. After explaining the state of the field, I discuss approaches to design and measure success for such artifacts. While some political opinion is black and white, most issues occupy grey areas, heavily influenced by other public policy issues. Can healthcare reform really be separated from taxation, national budgeting, tort reform, and social security reform? Far from neatly isolated problems, policy issues are complex systems that recombine and interrelate with one another. In particular, I will interrogate how videogames afford a new perspective on political issues, since they are especially effective at representing complex systems. Central to the process of creating and understanding such games is an understanding of “procedural rhetoric” — the way that a videogame embodies ideology in its computational structure. By understanding how games express rhetoric in their rules, we not only gain a critical vantage point on videogame artifacts, but also we can begin to consider how to design games whose primary purpose is to editorialize, teach, and make political statements.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v0i0.1617



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