Why Not Games




Asking For Less Unexamined Games

There are a couple of things that prompted this article. The first is a new post by Jeremiah McCall, which you can read here. It goes over how players can take games with systems that are deeply flawed in what they say and through dissection and analysis still come out with deep learnings. Furthermore, it notes that "There is little reason to suppose that trashing a flawed model is inherently less valuable than validating a plausible one." This dovetailed with a recent article I read, The Work of Postcolonial Game Studies in the Play of Culture by Soraya Murray, which goes over the current state of postcolonial game scholarship. These are both well-written, thought-provoking posts that make smart points well. I agree with both of them and highly recommend that you read them. However, as someone making a game in this space, I feel that they're both too soft on people like me.

I contend that all colonial games are colonial in the same way. The details might differ, but these games are not colonial out of an intent to make colonial statements, but instead colonial by reproducing the biases of their makers. These makers, furthermore, tend to homogeneity in background and so the games tend to uncritically repeat the same mistakes. Naturally then, when analysing and critiquing these games, the same points will have to come up again and again, which essentially asks scholars to solve problems they've already seen.

Exacerbating this lack of scholarly challenge is that the games don't actually have much to say on topics of colonialism at all. It's hard for them to speak too much about something they haven't really thought about at all. So, the scholar who engages with them finds themselves less in a dialogue with the game and more in conversation with other people thinking in the space simply because the game lacks the substance to get one's teeth into. However, talking to other people thinking about postcolonialism in games feels like being a member of the chorus asked to preach to the rest. I fear that the paucity of the source material, the thought in the video games themselves, limits how far the thought around the source material can extend, no matter how skilled the scholar.

Games that engage with these ideas will both succeed and fail in ways that cannot be anticipated. As every game designer knows, no theory, no matter how elegant, can come away from implementation unscathed. However, in these trials by fire, we might achieve a little hieromancy ourselves and better understand what it is to make and think about postcolonialism in video games.

Finally, I want to look at other media for a good comparison point. One can definitely put down a lot of valid and insightful thought about postcolonialism from unsophisticated books like Around The World In 80 Days and that thought is every bit as good as any other in the field, but the field itself is better for also being able to examine something like A Passage To India as well.

- @murthynikhil

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Written for Why Not Games.