Epic Games Tim Sweeney waded into it after a speech at DICE advocated devs and publishers make games that are apolitical and resist having something foisted upon them by marketing.
In a variant of the “get woke go broke” argument, Fortnite’s chief basically said that games need to be as devoid of real-world references as possible. Coming from as someone who has played games his whole life however this is impossible. Nonetheless, his comments have touched off a firestorm of debate and argument and that’s always good. After all, even the most passionless among us know that being apolitical is itself a political stance.
So, what exactly is Tim Sweeney talking about? Well, he actually makes some good points and it seems like the core of his argument is being twisted to simply mean touting an agenda of one kind or another. For example, he cites Blizzard’s actions with regard to suspending a player for his pro-Hong Kong protest sentiments and he also goes further in highlighting Chick-fil-A’s politics and how many problems that has caused for the company.
Nonetheless, the general mass of his argument has set off alarms across the video gaming world on both sides of the debate. This is because, as passionate gamers, we all agree that games are a form of art and a medium for explaining the world around us. Gamers have seldom liked heavy-handed messages now or in the past (look at all of the 1990s “xtreme” mascots for case in point). But the idea that marketing departments and vast political conspiracies make a fiat from which a creative endeavor flows is to confuse the chicken for the egg. Games start off as creative endeavors and sometimes are mangled by marketing, not the other way around.
To tell developers to avoid politics entirely would lead to a fairly sterile creative world in the least and a devastatingly boring one in the worst. Video game thrive on creativity and sometimes that means pushing others’ buttons. What really makes all of this very timely is that 2019 was dominated to a large extent by Epic Games and its new store and its moves towards securing exclusives over established player Steam and other stores.
Not only did these moves draw down the ire of gamers across the world but also it highlighted a broader strategy by many publishers to become their own self-contained storefronts and platforms. In other words, it looks like Fortnite is the Trojan horse to the games store’s occupying force. The thing is, people see games as more than a business and the expression of games being something beyond loot boxes.
If you completely reject the idea that video games are a form of artistic expression, it is easier to understand what Sweeney is saying since his advice is geared towards protecting the bottom line. The only problem is that no one has ever understood video games in this context – and they’re not likely to start now.