Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What the Trump presidency means for games; Get up and take action!

I don't post a lot on this blog, because my first language (Dutch) doesn't reach a lot of people and my English is not good enough to reach the depth I'd like to go into with certain subjects. Also, I don't like to talk about politics, because it is usually just people screaming at each other and people at the sidelines shaking their heads. I don't want to be part of any of that. Yet, here I am, writing about politics on my neglected blog.

Pretty enough for at least 4 years.
The reason I post here is because nothing I currently hear in the media resonates with my own opinion. On one hand there are people cheering for Trump, because their sports team won, and on the other hand there are people weeping for Hillary Clinton, because getting a woman into office would be progressive, no matter what her policy would be. My concern, as a game developer, is how this will influence the games coming out in the following 8 years.

You see, every presidential term brings with it an overall feeling for its citizens and, because America exports a LOT of media, this feeling is often communicated to and adopted by other countries with other cultures. Therefore, the presidential election can have a big impact on entertainment and, for me in particular, games. When you look at presidential terms and what games were generally played during those in the western world, you can see a connection between what the overall feeling was and what was done in games of the time. My prediction for the future: Dread what's coming, it's gonna be the Bush years with military shooters all over again.

The positivity in the 80's and 90's

Let me tell you where this is all coming from. I'm 31, the American news claims I am a millennial as I am born between 1980 and 2000. I am, however, old enough to claim that, with Trump, I have closely followed 5 American presidents. Yes, I live, and was born and raised in the Netherlands, but we are not ignorant about international politics. The USA is always broadcasting their woes. So, naturally, I was up to speed in the early 90's. I was too young to get any of the Reagan years, but I vividly remember the switch from Bush senior to Clinton at 8 years old.

Even Sonic does not know what to make of this election.
Now let's get to the games, music and movies I grew up with in the 80's and 90's. We all know the gaming classics of Mario, Sonic, Megaman, Zelda, and I am sure there are some obscure titles from that era you remember fondly. Even if you weren't born then, there is a big chance you played something on an emulator. Those games were colorful and had a grand sense of adventure. It was a time in which everyone dreamed of bigger things and games tried to be more than they actually were. It didn't matter they had less pixels than pixies existing in the real world, we dreamed, and filled in the crude parts with our imagination.

Yes, I am romanticizing the 90's a lot, but it is hard to explain what the overall feel was back then to people who don't vividly remember it. For instance: games were fucking colorful. I remember wanting Robocop for my Sega Gamegear and a friend advised me against it. "If a game is dark, it will most likely suck." He was right.

Sonic was awesome and the late 90's saw some of the most colorful games. It is easy to point to mainstream games, like Mario 64 and say the 90's were colorful, but they were all like that! If you take a look at less known games, like Turok, Buck Bumble or any racing game, the colors blast of the screen. If I needed to summarize the whole experience in 1 game, I think this gameplay of Gremlin's N2O will do:


With the turn of the millennium in our visors, everyone was filled with hope. By breaking down the Berlin wall, we eradicated the last remnants of world war 2 and we connected with people all over the world with our first internet connections. This positive energy is probably best summarized in the songs Waiting for tonight by Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith bantering about a Willenium. Click those links and take it all in, that was the overall feeling we had back then.

The 2000's and our crushed spirits

Also, Gerrymandering! Google it! It's fun!
And then, in the year 2000, America shocked the world. Not because they elected Bush junior, but because the majority did not want him. I was 15 years old when I learned how the presidential election really worked. Apparently, the president only needs to be elected by half of the states. 15 year old me did the math: if voting for A/B is 49%/51% in slightly more than half of the states and the other half votes 100%/0%, B is elected by 26%, even though A got 74% of the votes. Votes only count in those first half amount of states, the rest does not matter. If it looks like it is neck-a-neck between 2 candidates, you just started counting at the wrong state. Not only that, but within each state there is ANOTHER district system with the same rules, making the ACTUAL devide more A 87% and B 13% with B winning. Al Gore lost to Bush junior, even though Gore had the popular vote. "You know," 15 year old me thought,"they're adults. They'll surely gonna fix that."

And then 9/11 happened and again the world was shocked. Not because some angry men flew planes into several buildings, but because a dubiously elected president wanted to go to war and claimed "If you're not with us, you're against us," practically blackmailing everyone to join a war with him. We started the new millennium by collectively letting the first world go to war with a couple of third world countries. The hopes we had for world peace in 1999 were immediately crushed and there was this general sense of dread.

Spec-ops the Line. Original, but still a military shooter.
This dread translated to games more than you'd think. In 2003 the war in Iraq was well underway and it was also the year of the first Call of Duty. Over the years this series gained in popularity so much, it became it's own genre, the Military First Person Shooter. That was not the only thing that happened, Doom went from a colorful & gory shootfest to a dark, claustrophobic jumpscare game. At the time, a lot of reviews loved this new idea and more games followed suit.

But it was not only games that went the depressed route. The 2000's gave rise to the Daily Show and gave us the awesome Green Day album American Idiot. As entertaining as these were, they left me with a nasty, underlying feeling. Every time the Jon Stewarts, Stephen Colberts and other artist had something to say, everyone was pointing at each other and claiming how bad the other was, but nobody was taking any action. It sounds trivial, but making TV or writing an album might communicate an idea, but it does not get people to stand up and do stuff.

You can't play the game, nor relax to watch the movie.
To me, this is the worst change that happened in the 2000's in gaming. It was as if people were not meant to take action in real life, as well as in games. This apathy of "our actions (voting, etc.) don't mean anything" got games to be reduced to handholding and "cinematic experiences."We got Guitar hero, which, when you get down to it, was an arbitrary pushing of buttons. Even though military shooters claimed to be rugged and tough, they were very linear and started telling the player they did well, as if talking to a 4 year old. Also, let's not forget the 'Quick Time Event,' which gave pretty pictures, but practically no gameplay.

It was cool to not want Bush and claim it should've been Gore, even though Bush got re-elected. That gave rise to a lot of successful, but cynical media. Nobody took action, because, as I see it, moaning brought them more money. This apathy brought inaction to all sorts of media. Movies were not about adventures anymore and games were reduced to easy, mundane tasks. If you could not finish a game, it was now the game's fault, not your lack of skills.

2009, Regaining some positivity with Obama

SUUUUUPER MEAT BOY!
I know correlation does not imply causation, but around Obama's "Yes, we can!" campaign, the agency and ability for action returned in games. Even though the whole world was in an economic crisis, positivity soared with the president received the Nobel peace prize and securing everyone basic health care. Alongside this positive vibe came the rise of an awesome indie game scene and with it came a lot of the old color and difficulty. Games like Super Meat Boy even dug up a niche that found 90's games too easy. Seriously, it might have heralded "old school difficulty," but no game in the 80's or 90's was that hard and unforgiving whilst still loved by the general public. And let's not forget: Doom became a colorful, gory shooter again.

Action and agency in games was even expanded further with the likes of Minecraft. These were games with an infinite world and you can change the terrain and throw some materials together to make new tools and stuff. We did not have this in the 90's and it's an awesome system to have in games.

Let's get on an adventure!
It's weird how quietly crafting and building got into games. First we had Minecraft, then came Terraria, somewhere in the middle came Kerbal Space Program and now a lot of Indie games have some kind of crafting/building system in them. It got to the point that even big companies have started putting such a system in their games. Take a look, for example, at Dragon Quest Builders; That game is exactly Minecraft, but it still maintained the Dragon Quest feel. It's not my type of game (I am a 90's kid after all), but it is nice to see Indie ideas taken up by bigger companies.

But not everything went well this presidential term. For some reason, the same amount of people were still complaining about the president, it was just the other camp and I don't blame them. Effectively, this president was elected by 13% of the population too and that can leave people with a disgruntled feeling. But instead of trying to fix the voting system, this camp did nothing too. It claimed Obama was not born in America and was comparing health care with Nazis. People like Glenn Beck gladly moaned about everything they didn't like and on the other side people like Jon Oliver mocked the right-wing for being wrong. A lot was said, but nothing was done.


And again this apathy can still be found in games. Military shooters that hold your hand like a 4 year old, are STILL around. It's as if some people still need the affirmation that, yes, you are a good, capable person. Also, although there are more difficult games around, the overall difficulty hasn't changed and the difficult games are more a niche genre than a mainstream thing.

2016, Trump is president

Remember the geocities days when this would be a GIF?
As I am writing this, today is the first day after the 2016 election and we know Trump will be the next president of America. Twitter is now full of people claiming this is the end of the world. People can't believe he became president, even though he was effectively 1 of only 2 people that could be elected. People are acting defeated under a president that acts in a dominant way to put people down and force them to just take it.

I am afraid that we, as a games industry, will slip back into the apathy we experienced during the Bush years and that that apathy will slip back into the spirit our games' designs. Games do not fare well on apathy, they are a medium that prospers with agency and determination. Most of the people on my twitter are game developers or youtubers. All of them are left-wing supporters. Nobody is happy with the new president and everybody is feeling down. To all those people, I've only got 1 answer:

Shut up.

Shut up and take action. We've seen the apathy during the Bush years and it brought dreadful games. America has not completely recovered from those years as Guantanamo Bay, the war in Iraq and the economic crisis are still around. The games industry also hasn't healed as Quick Time Events and monochrome games are also still around. Don't let it slip back to the discontent mess of the 2000's, but find your spirit again and do your thing!

Closest utopia I could find.
Go look for games about an awesome utopian future where we all drive electric cars and everyone can live together regardless of their race, religion or sexuality! Talk with other people about how we can make this world a better place! But, most importantly, don't sit down or moan about how the current people in charge are holding you down! That pity is not helping anybody!

If you do your research, there are more non-violent ways to get things done in politics than just voting, like rallying, lobbying or running for office yourself. It's even possible to try to get laws into congress as a citizen! If your president does not make the world better, it's your job to do it for him! These are all possibilities if you drop the apathy and unite. If you live in America, take action and inspire other people! Also, fix your voting system, for goodness sake!


To America in general: stop feeling sorry for yourself. Whichever camp you are on, you are always waiting to get the guy you like into office. When that happens, he does not do enough to fix your broken state. When your favorite guy loses, you weep and moan how the other is ruining you. Don't be apathetic! You haven't lost the fight, nor can you sit down and hope the current guy will fix anything for you. This happened, now the adventure starts, and that attitude will make a damn fine game!