When I write a game (or when you write a game) I am building a set of social constraints: the rules are ways you are allowed/expected to behave. When you follow my behavioural rules you (if I did everything perfectly) get an experience that I intended for you to get.
Games are mind control.
I am basically communicating to you a method by which you can communicate with each other that does something special. See all that “communication” in there? I’m going somewhere with that. Because communication in itself is political: I choose what to communicate, I do so with a purpose, and you do something with that communication. In one-way communication I change you. In two-way communication we change each other. Whether or not I have a political agenda is irrelevant: this is a very political space.
If I choose to control your mind in this fashion and do so with no political intent, I’m being naïve.
If I choose to control your mind in this fashion and do so with the express intent of delivering no political agenda at all, will that’s political as fuck. And also pretty damned clever. If you pull it off, you’re gifted. If you think you are pulling it off but are in fact just delivering content so universally accepted by your peers that it just doesn’t feel political (because it’s not challenging anything you care about: that’s why it feels apolitical) then we might be back to naïve again.
If you have a political agenda then you’re just being honest with everyone. It’s not especially clever, it’s just self-aware. I place a high value on self-awareness. I think it’s important. If you read and play my political game and think “wow I hate everything this stands for” then I’ve revealed valuable information to you. If you let me know, then you’ve revealed valuable information to me.
What I’m saying is that communication with any depth is always political. Communication with accidentally no depth is just goofy. Communication with deliberately no depth is a wild idea. I can hardly think of anything more political. Dadaism was profoundly political.
So where do games fall? Certainly accepting the status quo has to be political. Things are shit and need to change. Do status quo games lie here? Are we hiding something from ourselves?
Are games about challenging the status quo valuable? Do they result in any actual challenges? On the other hand, can any art fail to do so? In being at a minimum reflective of what’s going on, the game text serves at least as a record of someone struggling with the world. At its best the text creates play and therefore a series of experiences (people playing the game) that present these challenges, ask people to pretend to live these challenges. Ideas have been moved from author to consumer.
But here’s what’s interesting and I’m sorry I took so long to get here: when we pretend anything we run a simulator in our head. We simulate the things we pretend. We simulate how we feel to discover how we might react. You know what we use to do the simulation?
The same thing we use to actually experience it. We just temporarily re-wire the inputs. So there is a sense in which, when I get you to simulate something, I get you to “actually” experience it. Sure you have your simulation flag set, so you get to discard it as fantasy. But it turns out we’re not great at that: when we simulate sadness really well, we generate real tears. Simulated emotions are only barely distinguishable from real ones.
Role-playing games are mind control devices. Mind control devices are all political. Nothing could be more political.