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Political Game Design



Political game design the exploration of the scope, limits, and possibilities of game design for a politically motivated position. Political games may aim to inform, motivate, or challenge people about politics and let them engage with different levels of political sphere through gameplay.
Political Game Design
Diğdem Sezen
Faculty of Communications, Istanbul University,
Istanbul, Turkey
Activist games;Documentary games;
Newsgames;Persuasive games;Serious games
Political game design the exploration of the scope,
limits, and possibilities of game design for a polit-
ically motivated position. Political games may
aim to inform, motivate, or challenge people
about politics and let them to engage with differ-
ent levels of political sphere through gameplay.
While earlier examples can be found in the form of
games designed for the education of rulers in core
principles of military and politics (Von Hilgers
2012); according to Lerner the history of political
games and political play can be traced back to the
nineteenth century, to the invention of Prussian
tabletop wargames. By 1960s mostly cooperative
political minded physical games were used by
activists both in the USA and in Latin America to
achieve political change (Lerner 2014). Political
analog games arestill used in many areas including
urban design and peacebuilding as a tool and a
method (Tan 2014; Brynen et al. 2018). The con-
ceptualization and practice of political video
games on the other hand starts with 2000s.
Political Video Games
Since mid-2000s game scholars have been argu-
ing for the design of video games for purposes
beyond entertainment and particularly for politi-
cal activism. In 2005, Gonzalo Frasca had
predicted that video games will become an
increasingly popular platform for political and
social commentary and activism as they become
increasingly prevalent in households(Frasca
2005). Joost Raessens argued that the use of
games to foreground social and political issues
by collectives of game developers, artists, and
political activists would turn a platform for pure
fantasy into a medium for social realism and cri-
tique (Raessens 2006). Dening videogames as
expressive media carrying messages through their
procedural and audio-visual representation sys-
tems which can simulate real-life processes,
Ian Bogost points out that the persuasive power
of videogames could be used by politicians, polit-
ical parties, policy-makers, as well as activist
citizens, nongovernmental organizations, and by
journalists for criticizing, explaining and even for
#Springer International Publishing AG 2018
N. Lee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games,
To appear in N. Lee (ed.), Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games
provoking political issues (Bogost et al. 2010).
Even though they were overshadowed by the
rise of social media, in the last decade these pre-
dictions have at least partially came true. Since
their rst use in 2013 in the USA (Bogost 2007),
political election games continue to be produced
as part of election campaigns in different coun-
tries, like France (Saeed 2017) and the UK
(Dallison 2017) during the 2017 elections.
Designing video games accompanying political
activism or reacting to political turmoil in differ-
ent parts of the world have become a common
practice, as seen in Turkey both during the Gezi
Park protests in 2013 (Sezen and Sezen 2016) and
after the coup attempt in 2016 (Sezen and Sezen
2018). Finally, since 2011 the Syrian civil war and
the following refugee crisis have inspired several
games investigating this humanitarian crisis from
different perspectives (Stuart 2015; Gach 2017).
Even though not as prominent as game scholars
have predicted, political video games have
become a part of the new media landscape.
Types of Political Games
Focusing on many ways, people use games for
political purposes, and both analog and digital
games, Lerner proposes three main categories:
games about politics, play as political action,
and games as political action (Lerner 2014).
Games about politics are games about political
issues which aim to inform and motivate their
players. Their simplest form is what might
be called a reactionary political game, a game
which addresses a timely political issue without
delivering a deep analysis or argumentation and
has a very short circulation period. Sicart criticizes
such games for being design-wise unoriginal and
for not providing any contribution to the political
discourse (Sicart 2014).
Play as political action on the other hand inserts
game design principles into political practice. One
of its famous examples could be considered the
Theatre of the Oppressed performances by Augusto
Boal (1985). Comparinggames and play in political
context, Sicart argues that play constitutes a much
stronger expression of political ideas and continues,
because it is play, it can thrive in situations of
oppression; because it is play, it can allow personal
and collective expression, giving voices and actions
when no one can be heard(Sicart 2014).
Lerners last category, games as political action,
encompasses games designed to achieve political
change. These games are not about politics but are
a way of doing politics. Unlike political play...
Lerner says, ...these games are structured around
specic rules, conicts, and outcomesand should
be considered tools to make political decisions
(Lerner 2014). Analog games used in design pro-
cesses and activist street games should be consid-
ered under this category. The former can be used in
areas such as urban politics and the latter can be
used as a direct method to achieve political change
in the streets and in face-to-face meetings.
Design of Political Games
While the designerspolitical views may be inu-
ential on the level of in-game political agency and
critical perspectives of political games, one of the
factors affecting these features is time. A games
temporal distance to its topic could be a signicant
factor over its design choices and consequently
over the production specics, complexity of the
game mechanics, stylistic features, and gameplay
duration. A short temporal distance between the
event and the release of the game usually results
with a quick, emotional response as seen in reac-
tionary games. If temporal distance between the
event and the release of the game is longer, and
during this interval the issue is continued to be
discussed and still relevant in the society, it is
expected the game as part of the surrounding
media ecology might express a political position
and contribute to the ongoing discussions.
September 12th,Peacemaker, or Syrian Journey
might be seen examples of such process. If though
the issue at hand had lost its eminency and rele-
vance, meaning the issue has been closed for the
society we may see games akin to political docu-
mentaries, analyzing the issue from different per-
spectives. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday on 1979
Iranian Revolution or Ihtilal (Revolution) on the
1960 coup detat in Turkey could be examples.
2 Political Game Design
Going beyond the concept of political
themes and events, Mary Flanagan and Helen
Nissenbaum propose the term conscientious
designerto describe those who accept to embody
and implement ethical and political values when
they design and build systems including games.
Political values can be described as arrangements
of power and authority, which dene relation-
ships within and between societies, such as
justice, equality, security, cooperation, tolerance
(Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014). It can be argued
that political values are the building blocks or com-
ponents of individual political themes and issues.
A conscientious designer uses game design ele-
ments which not only have cultural, ethical, and
political resonances, but also are experienced by
the players to reect on political values. According
to Flanagan and Nissenbaum, some of these ele-
ments can be listed as follows: Narrative premise
and goals, characters, actions in games, player
choice, rules for interaction with other players and
nonplayable characters, rules for interaction with the
environment, point of view, rewards, and game
maps (Flanagan and Nissenbaum 2014). A consci-
entious political game designer should be able to
analyze individual political issues to identify the
values shaping it and later use the game design
elements, which would enable her to reect on them.
There is no single relationship between games
and politics, and these relationships continue to
grow up in many unexpected new ways. Media
outlets, political actors, and institutions explicitly
embrace the experimental possibilities of games.
Political games are still not a key medium in
todays political media landscape, but a unique
part of it.
Narrative Design
Serious Games
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Bogost, I., Ferrari, S., Schweizer, B.: Newsgames. The
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Political Game Design 3
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