The yearning for the separation of art and politics is one held by those for whom the status quo is their foundation. To be reminded that alternative perspectives not only exist, but are forced to exist by virtue of an individual’s identity threads holes in the comfort the yearners drape over themselves; a comfort that is not long enough by virtue of colonialism, bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia and capitalism to extend to those of us who are not straight cis white men. A comfort that, nevertheless, would cover a world warmed by greed and frozen by self destruction, never once coming to be fertile enough to yield a kind of growth we desperately need.
The separation comes in varied forms – but perhaps the most common is the idea of art being “apolitical”. In a recent interview with Game Informer, the folks at Infinity Ward were insistent that their upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which “touch[es] topics that bear a resemblance to the geopolitics of the world we live in today” is in fact not political. Narrative director Taylor Kurosaki added: “We do talk about concepts like colonialism, and occupation, and independence, and freedom. We don’t maybe say those words specifically, but that’s the realm that we are in.”
The sheer absurdity of discussing political topics without discussing politics is, ironically, a level of Doublethink that would give a Winston Smith a run for his money. However, what this touches on is the overall toxicity in games culture regarding the ability to openly discuss issues of politics without bizarrely aggressive consumers aiming for your head. We shouldn’t expect developers to deal with abuse but we should also be rethinking the giving in to the worst and most absurdly boring parts of this culture.
The same people who yell at critics for discussing social issues, insisting we “let” developers create what they like are the same who would yell at those same developers for being willing to include political topics.
The question is, however, what is not a political topic? Doom (2016) was a game that, despite being on the nose about its violence and gratuity very obviously took issue with the excesses of capitalism and corporate greed; Assassin’s Creed: Origins dealt with the royal intrigue for the throne of Egypt; Alien: Isolation deals with issues of labour and unequal distribution of profits. It’s not that these and basically every game touches on big and small political themes, it’s that I’d wonder how could you not? Politics and political themes are about how we, as a society, are meant to live and work and survive together amidst a moral turbulence fuelled by a refusal to distribute accumulated power, a rejection of reflecting on unwarranted privilege, a growing awareness that neutrality is code for comfort, and the growing inevitable doom of a planet we’ve scarred and blasted and treated with petulant disdain.
Art is a vision of worlds that are, rather than worlds that could be or once were – because upon encountering them, these worlds exist for the audience experiencing them. Painting a rich tapestry of words can result in experiences more vivid, more meaningful than memories so why do relegate these to a lower standard than the usually boring life we otherwise lead? True, we are careening toward a fist of annihilation we closed with our own selfishness, but that doesn’t make it worth experiencing every single day.
And if art is a vision of a world, how could it not discuss or include or reflect politics? It is absurd to cry for its separation: It is to call for a blank canvas, a pageless book, a muted song. The comfort is receding and those who cry the loudest are having to feel tiny blasts of the cold reality many of us face – and they don’t like it.
I say put all your politics on your sleeve, let us engage and discuss, disagree and grow. We get nowhere with blindfolds but further with bridges.